7 Tips to Get the Most from a Doctor’s Visit

It’s a ritual we’d all just as soon forget: our annual check up. Especially if you’re feeling pretty good. But you take your car in for an annual inspection. Your dog goes to the vet every year.  And you should have your annual check up. Guys are the worst about it. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), even excluding pregnancy-related visits, women are 33 percent more likely than men to visit a doctor.

Here’s my take. Your annual exam is one of the most important things you will do this year. It’s your special time to discuss your current health status, to establish your health goals for the coming year, and an opportunity to make a wellness plan with your healthcare provider. But we all know that the time spent with the doctor is sometimes too short to get all of that done. These seven tips will help you get organized and get the most out of your visit.

1. Understand Wellness!

First, understand why you go. Of course you want to find out if you have an illness. But I view wellness and illness as a continuum (see wellness/illness scale below). In most instances, we aren’t well one day and sick the next. Think of wellness as a scale from 1 to 10. You may continue to feel well until you reach 7, but by then your scale is tipped to illness. By taking the necessary steps to be healthier both physically and emotionally before the balance tips to illness, you are much more likely to stay well and never reach 7+ on the wellness/illness scale.

2. Bring some essentials with you.

  • Bring something to write on and something to write with.

Most people are anxious when they go to their doctor and forget their questions or answers the doctor tells them. Write down your questions ahead of time and write down the doctor’s answers and recommendations as you get them.

  • Bring a friend or family member.

It can be very helpful to have an extra set of ears to listen. Friends and family can be asked to leave during an exam to avoid an awkward situation, but having them there for any discussions can be very reassuring and help assure you get the answers you need. Studies show that many patients don’t remember more than 10 percent of what they are told during a doctor’s visit. If English isn’t your first language, ask for an interpreter.

3. Do Your Homework.

  • Review your medical history and your family’s medical history before your visit.

Most doctors ask you to fill out an updated medical history form before your exam.  To make this easier, plan ahead and bring a personal and family medical history with you or ask for your doctor’s form ahead of time.

List any family members who have been diagnosed with cancer or other illness since your last annual exam. If this is the first time seeing this doctor, list any member of your immediate family with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or other chronic illnesses. Try to remember any conditions that may run in your family or any that could be contagious.

  • Bring a list of all your medications and their dosages. Be sure to include over-the-counter medications, herbal preparations, vitamins and supplements.These are important because many over-the-counter products interfere with prescription medications or have other effects.
  • Bring a list all of the doctors and health care providers that treat you and when you
    last saw them. Include their telephone numbers and addresses so your healthcare provider can easily communicate with them and coordinate your care. The easier you make it for the doctor, the more likely it is to happen.

Be sure to include all people from complementary and alternative medicine such as acupuncture, chiropractic, massage and any other type of healer to physical therapists.  A large percentage of people either forget to tell or don’t tell their primary care physician about alternative therapies they are receiving, and this makes it difficult for them to get a complete picture of your current health status, care and potential.

4. Five more things to ask about at your annual exam.

  • Make a list of the things that are most worrying you. Everyone is anxious or particularly embarrassed about certain things, so they wait until they are about to leave to mention them to their doctor. Unfortunately, by then there is no time left for discussion. Get those out first so there is plenty of time. If there won’t be enough time at your visit, you’ve got the subject out in the open and you can schedule a follow up time to have a more complete discussion when you won’t be rushed.
  • Any physical or emotional difficulties you have been experiencing.
  • Any questions you don’t want to forget to ask.
  • Any foreign travel in the past year or any future plans.
  • Any visual problems. Getting an annual eye exam can save your vision. Ask your doctor for a referral.

We are becoming a much more global community with lots of travel. Many countries require specific immunizations so visitors won’t catch contagious diseases while they visit a particular region of the world. This is also a good time to ask if you need any routine immunizations such as your tetanus shot or flu shot. Depending on your age, health or other risk factors, you might also benefit from immunizations for HPV, shingles, or one of a growing list of others.

5. Discuss weight control with your doctor.

  • Ask for your BMI and whether you need to work to change it.

The BMI or Body Mass Index uses your height and weight to calculate if you are over- or under-weight or just right. If yours is too high or too low, talk with your doctor about a plan to become a more ideal weight. Ask your doctor what resources are available in the hospital or community to help you. This may involve a health coach or organized weight management program. There are also apps available for your phone or computer and an increasing number of programs at work and in the community. Studies show that keeping track of your information and reporting it back to a person or group gets the highest levels of success.  Social elements are important, so find out how to get involved.

6. Common topics people avoid, but shouldn’t.

It’s normal. Everyone has something that causes embarrassment or makes him or her feel awkward. Your doctor probably won’t think it’s embarrassing, though. Even if a topic seems really personal or uncomfortable, try to talk about. Once you do, it’s usually the beginning of getting better. Here are some common topics people avoid but shouldn’t.

  • Urinary incontinence. Studies have shown that 1 out of 3 women have difficulty with urinary incontinence (loss of urine), but it takes 3-5 years for most women to work up the courage to talk about it with their doctor. If this is a problem you are having, you are not alone. To make the most of your annual exam, you can keep a chart of how much fluid you are drinking in a day, how many times you urinate in a 24 hour period, and how any times you leak urine during a 24 hour period.  If you keep a log of this for a week, your doctor will be in a good position to advise you how to best deal with this common issue.
  • Domestic Violence is another topic that people often feel is off limits.  Studies show that nearly 1 in 3 adult women experience assault by a partner sometime in adulthood. If you are suffering from domestic violence, and that includes verbal abuse, talk to your doctor. Get help.
  • Erectile dysfunction can be awkward and difficult for men to discuss. This is important information to share because in addition to the impact on one’s sex life, erectile dysfunction may be a sign of arterial disease or other medical conditions. It may also be a sign of Andropause or Male Menopause. While we’re talking about Viagra, new research suggests the increased use of erectile dysfunction medications has caused an alarming rise of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among the over 50 group. Evidently, because pregnancy is no longer a worry, people are not practicing safe sex. If you are sexually active and over 50, it’s time for this discussion with your doctor as well.

7. Ask about your sleep. Not enough may be killing you.

If poor sleep is a problem for you, tell your doctor. Poor sleep is a major issue for 70 million American adults. It contributes to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and many more medical conditions. Most adults need about 7-8-hours of sleep a night to function optimally and to stay well.  There are many reasons people have difficulties sleeping, from anxiety, depression, and stress to medications, medical problems, urinary problems, uncomfortable sleeping conditions, too much caffeine, alcohol, and restless leg…the list goes on and on.

To help you figure out what’s contributing to your sleep disturbance, keep a sleep log and bring it to your exam. Get a free downloadable sleep diary at DoctorSeibel.com/sleep. Write down the time you go to bed, how long it takes to fall asleep, how many times you wake up during the night, what time you wake up in the morning. Also note if you take any naps during the day. If you do this for a couple of weeks before your exam, your doctor will offer some information to help you. Your may be asked if your partner says you that you snore loudly every night – it could be a sign of sleep apnea.


Your annual exam is a special time. You have your healthcare provider’s undivided attention. Get the most out of your visit; be prepared. Realize that to live a long and healthy life, you’ve got to get involved in the process of staying well. Bring your questions, your lists, and your most pressing issues. Use this as an opportunity to make the changes you need to accomplish to optimize your health.

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Debbie Crowe
Debbie Crowe6 years ago

I always talk a list of all my medications and any changes in them with me. I also write down any questions I want to ask him.

What is ironic is that I went for my physical 3 weeks ago and I was just fine. The very next day, I had a sore throat and a nasty sinus infection. I have always heard that a doctors office is full of germs. I guess I found some that day on the magazine I was reading. Next time, I will take my own book.

Tim Cheung
Tim C6 years ago


Zee K.
Past Member 6 years ago

In the old days, when I used to go to doctors, I took along a list.

The doctors appreciated it.

Nina Anghel
Nina Anghel6 years ago

Good tips. Thanks.

Carole R.
Carole R6 years ago

Good tips. Thanks.

Tim Cheung
Tim C6 years ago


Dale Overall

Very useful information, it always helps to write things down!

Dale Overall

Interesting and useful information.

Ra Sc
Ra Sc6 years ago

It can also be helpful to generally write down when you have some health problem crop up. Some problems are intermittent, and you may not think of them when it is close to your appointment, but they can be important to mention. So, making a general habit of noting down problems when you notice them can make it take less time for you to get them addressed by a doctor. This is particularly helpful when you aren't young and healthy and less prone to significant symptoms (although even a young person can develop a serious medical issue).

Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad6 years ago

Ask lots of questions.