After over a decade in the medical field, I'd like to share 5 useful tips for ensuring your first visit with a new doctor is as fruitful as possible.
1- Take Ownership of Your Medical Care
The first step to receiving optimal medical care is recognizing that you are 100% responsible for your own health. When it comes to health, no one will care more about your personal well-being as you do. The same goes for your financial well-being.
As such, you have to be actively involved in the medical care that you receive. This means keeping records, educating yourself about your diagnosis, finding the best providers, asking questions, seeking second opinions when needed, etc.
There is work to be done on your part. The good news is, by doing so, you'll have a comprehensive understanding of your medical diagnoses and the actions that should be taken to ensure you are receiving the best care possible.
2- Obtain Prior Medical Records and Imaging Results
In a perfect world, a universal electronic health record system would exist. All healthcare providers would be able to login to your chart and see all prior imaging results, consultations, lab values, etc. Unfortunately, that is far from the case in America today where an estimated 1,100 different EHR vendors exist. Sadly this leads to fragmented care, wasted time and resources, unnecessary testing, increased radiation exposure and sub-optimal patient care.
So how can you combat this problem? Well, by requesting all records from your Dr.’s office or from the Medical Records department at your hospital. Keep a binder of all visits with your PCP and specialty consultants. Ask for imaging and biopsy reports. Request that your actual images from, let's say, an Xray, MRI, CT be given to you on a disc in addition to the radiology reports. This way the files can be taken to any provider for upload and review.
There is nothing worse than meeting a specialist you've been waiting several weeks to see and being told that a comprehensive plan of care cannot be established until your prior records can be obtained for further review. Make sure your healthcare providers are given this information at your initial visit. Even better, drop off your records and imaging at the physician's office prior to your upcoming appointment to ensure they have enough time to review this information before your visit.
Unfortunately, simply relying on the referring provider to send all this information ahead of time, is an unreliable plan of attack.
3- Do Your Research
An important part of owning your health, is researching your diagnoses. Now, some would argue against this as there is an awful lot of “fake” news on the internet based on anecdotal evidence as opposed to evidence-based research, however, I feel the more my patients know the better.
Ideally, obtain medical information from credible sources. Your healthcare providers can help direct you to the best available resources for understanding your diagnosis and treatment options. You can also look for government-backed sites like MedlinePlus.gov which is part of the National Institute of Health (NIH).
John’s Hopkins offers useful tips when visiting “dot com” sites, asking you to keep in mind that this information might have commercial biases or other conflicts of interest. They also state that it is important to look for information that is up to date– typically three years old or less. 
Being informed about your diagnosis helps you and your doctor develop a treatment plan that is tailored to fit your needs– one that works best for you in the context of your life and all its moving parts.
4- Ask Questions
By taking ownership of your health, obtaining your medical records, and doing your research, you are best equipped to ask educated questions about your diagnosis. You can review your imaging reports and highlight any areas of concern or confusion. Not only will this help to ensure nothing is overlooked, but it will give you the opportunity to seek further clarification about any terminology that you may not understand.
You can also ask questions about different treatment options that you may have come across while researching your diagnosis. Inquire about those options and ask about the available evidence that supports these treatments.
When treatments are offered, make sure you inquire about potential side effects or risks associated with these treatments. Also, inquire about possible risks of not undergoing these treatments or having additional imaging performed.
Ultimately, asking questions about your diagnosis will ensure a better understanding of your diagnosis, the prognosis for recovery, and the treatment options available, so you can make an informed decision about a plan of care that works best for you.
5-Focus on Prevention
Benjamin Franklin said it best, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” By focusing on living a healthy lifestyle each day, you can significantly reduce your need for meeting with a specialist in the first place. Given that you are reading this blog, you are already taking the first step toward optimizing your health. Bravo! But remember, all this education is for not, without taking action. So, remember to execute these 5 steps for optimizing your visit with a new physician to ensure you receive the best care possible.
We’d love to hear more from you. What tips do you have for ensuring a productive visit with a new provider? Are there any tips above that you disagree with?