When you visit the doctor, are you expecting a healing oasis?  A more apt analogy may be Grand Central Station – between patients, staff, and delivery people coming and going, phones ringing, and printers and fax machines spitting out documents, care sites may feel chaotic.

A practice with three doctors could have as many as 6,000 patients.  The office might employ 20 people.  They could see 100 patients a day.  The staff who greet you may not know your name, why you are there, or your medical history.  They simply may not remember your particulars.

To make the visit go smoothly, start preparing before you leave home.  In advance -- at least two days ahead -- think about whether they gave you any paperwork to complete or instructions to follow before this appointment.  Find the paperwork.  Fill it out. And – a big stumbling block for many people – make sure the completed paperwork makes it into the car before you leave.  Double-check the date and time of the appointment and the name and location of the doctor or facility. 

Know your social security number.  Bring photo ID, primary and secondary insurance cards, and a list of your medications (including how often you take them and how much you take – or bring all the pill bottles, including those for vitamins and supplements). 

Bring other relevant documents:  referral slips, referring doctor’s notes if you have them, and/or orders for tests or treatment.  Know the name of the doctor who referred you. Be able to name the diagnosis or medical issue that led to this appointment, and any tests or treatments you are scheduled to get.

If another doctor or facility was supposed to send information, know the name of the sending person or organization, the date they sent it, and how they sent it (e.g., fax, phone, mail).  Take their phone number with you, in case the information hasn’t shown up.

If you plan to ask for a copy of test results, know the name of the test, when and where you had it done, and the name of the doctor who ordered it.

If you have a question about some prior communication with the office, be prepared to tell them with whom you spoke and on what date.  Saying, “They said I would get a test when I arrived,” may mean nothing if they have no record of scheduling a test, and you can’t provide more information.

Take a one-pager for the doctor summarizing your history with the problem that brings you there – don’t assume that he or she will remember – and listing questions or concerns you have.

Help your doctors and their staffs spend less time tracking down missing information and more time helping you.