15 Ways To Get Your Money’s Worth from Doctor Visits

There is so much talk these days about medical care, medical insurance, and medication costs, that no matter who you are or what stage of life and health you may be in, you have to think about those things. If you are ill of course it becomes a huge priority in your life. If you are healthy, you want to keep it that way. If you have a family, you think about your spouse and your kids and what kind of care and expense that all means to keep everyone as healthy as possible.

No matter what you spend on healthcare, you want your dollars to count. Here's how to get your money's worth from doctor visits and get the best healthcare.

If you are a young person on your own, you may not worry all that much about your medical care. That happens sometimes because with youth often comes a feeling of invincibility. When you have been active and healthy all of your life, you may even take that fact for granted. That’s not really a good idea.

Healthcare is Complicated

I am a senior citizen (67, ouch, that hurts to say out loud!), and the realities of my life are pretty clear. It’s a fact that as you age, the chances that you will need medical care increase exponentially and doctors with all of the associated care and treatments become your routine. I know from experience how true that really is. I have a primary care doctor, a cardiologist, an eye doctor, and I am a frequent guest at the local lab facility as well as the two area hospitals near my home. UGH! I go to the doctors much more frequently than ever, unlike what was simply an annual exam when I was young or an occasional visit when I wasn’t feeling 100%.

These days my visits are regular, and interestingly are no longer even a “one stop” experience. Often they are tied in with lab tests, blood work, and even a referral to a specialist, making the experience even more complex. So, even if that’s not something you experience yourself right now, it may be on your medical horizon. Because of that, it’s good to prepare for that day, and to think about what you want and need from your doctor when you do visit.

Back in the day when I was a kid, the family doctor used to come to me. If you’re under the age of 35 you probably haven’t a clue about such things, but I swear it’s the truth. Today, it’s all about scheduling your appointment at the doctor’s office and in some cases, that is a huge medical complex or even a hospital or clinic.  Getting to talk to your doctor on the phone is almost impossible and it’s far more likely that you will have to talk to his or her nurse. It’s also possible that the nurse will have to call you back after you try to reach him or her. Hopefully, that will be today and not tomorrow. The point I’m making is that it shouldn’t be all about them, but rather it should be all about you!

Getting the Most from Your Doctor Visits

So, here’s my practical list of things you can do when  you see your doctor that will help you get the most from your visits and healthcare.

  1. Before you schedule your appointment, make sure the doctor accepts your insurance and is in network. If your plan requires a referral or pre-authorization, be sure to obtain one in advance. Schedule your appointment for first thing in the morning or right after lunch to minimize the chances that the doctor is behind schedule.
  2. Prepare in advance a list of questions you may have for your doctor. In between visits, write them down as they occur and bring them with you to your visit.
  3. If you need someone to make a planned doctor visit with you, don’t be afraid to ask. Whether you ask a friend or a relative to accompany you, having someone there with you that you trust is a big deal. This is especially true if you need moral support, have a hearing issue, or just want a second set of ears to help understand and remember what the doctor says.
  4. Do some of your own research. If you can, check online, in books at the library, or find out as much as you can about any conditions and illnesses you may have so you get a clear understanding of what your doctor is telling you needs to be done. Just remember that Google can’t replace your doctor.
  5. Bring a pen and paper with you to take notes during your consultation. When leaving the appointment get all the important information in writing before you leave. Don’t depend on your memory for everything.
  6. Keep a list of your current medications with you (including dosages) and review them with your doctor. If you are changing medication, be sure to ask the doctor about any side effects or interactions with other medications. If you’re starting a new maintenance medication (one for a chronic condition), find out if there is a generic or lower cost medication available and ask if the doctor has any samples so you can try it out before you spend money on a full month’s prescription.
  7. When talking to your doctor, always be 100% honest about how you are feeling, any symptoms or side effects, and answering any questions they ask. Since you know your own body best, make sure you communicate any changes in how you feel to your doctors and discuss those feeling and changes with them. This is a key time when you can give the doctor the information he or she needs for a proper diagnosis and any adjustments to medications.
  8. Don’t wait until your symptoms are severe before seeking medical attention. If your doctor has to send you to the emergency room, it will take more time, money, and aggravation to bring you back to wellness.
  9. If you are embarrassed by your symptoms, don’t be. Whether it’s depression, incontinence, or a sexual difficulty, no matter what, your doctor has heard it all before and can help.
  10. Make sure your doctor speaks clearly and slowly and remind him or her of that in case they tend to rattle off instructions in “medicalese” as many are want to do. Ask questions if you don’t understand.
  11. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking medication or making lifestyle changes. You’re paying for your doctor’s expertise; make sure you use it.
  12. Always get a second opinion on a diagnosis that is serious and may require more than just simple treatment or care. Your health is worth an extra co-pay.
  13. Practice preventative health measures and consult with your doctor as to what you should and can do to keep your health at its best.  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” as they say!
  14. Keep good records of your medical information at home, including information about your history, treatments, and bills. Know the difference between an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) from your insurance and an actual bill, and make sure you are only billed for the allowable amount.
  15. Remember, if you are not satisfied with your doctor’s style, patience, and manner, and you feel like you are not getting his or her full attention when you have a visit, you should consider changing your doctor and don’t feel guilty if you do.

So often it seems, we spend a lot of time with the office nurses talking to us about our conditions, medications, taking our vitals and such, and little time with our actual doctor who seems to have several patients all booked for the same hour as your appointment. No knock on the nurses, but I want and am entitled to my doctor’s attention and that’s what I expect! You should too.

One other note about the abundance of testing that is requested and done today. I always ask about the necessity of multiple tests because I know that sometimes a doctor can use these tests “just to be sure”. The testing, while it may be useful, should also be absolutely necessary as it can be expensive and time-consuming.

Your health is one of the most important things you have. Make sure you take good care of it and get the healthcare that you deserve at your doctor visits.

Are you seeing more and more of your family doctor these days? Are your medical costs rising? Do you feel your doctor is giving you the attention you deserve?


  1. Great overview and tips. I especially like the idea about having question down on paper and taking notes during office visits. So often we forgot to ask questions or forget the details of the information given after leave the office.

    A number of medical practices are moving towards patient portals and the ability to contact your doctor via the portal. I have found its much easier and quicker to get RXs refilled, or questions answered if this options is available.

    Stay healthy Gary!

    1. Thanks, Brian, for your good wishes. Great point about the portals. My primary care doctor is now using that as a method of communicating with me on things like lab test results and questions that I have. I would also recommend that as you have as a way of improving your communications with your doctor and their staff.

  2. The timing of this article is impeccable for me, Gary. Great advice! I don’t typically have to go to the doctor much, but decided it was time to get a knee/leg issue taken care of this year, so I’m dealing with specialists, tests and probably a surgery. One tip I hadn’t really thought about was taking someone with you to your appointment. This is great advice – sometimes it’s hard to catch every detail of the conversation and you can forget important information. Writing down questions ahead of time is a necessity too – I forget so much when I’m in the doctor’s office.

  3. Great list, Gary. You certainly are entitled to a doctor’s time and advice, and like you said, should have a low threshold to change providers if you don’t have a good relationship, but please don’t write off the nurse practitioners who are also excellent and often (as a doc, it pains me to say this but it’s true) have a better bedside manner.

    1. I’m certainly didn’t intend to knock the nurses, in fact with my cardiologist, the nurse that I deal with is super and probably knows more about my condition than the doctor does. I just don’t want to have it become commonplace that the nurse is the main contact and not the doctor. Thanks for your comments.

      1. Nurses are awesome, and I wanted to highlight the difference between nurses and nurse practitioners.
        Nurses typically carry out the orders of doctors, PAs, and nurse practitioners, while nurse practitioners can practice independently as providers, not as nurses. The name is a bit misleading, but nurse practitioners can handle most of the basic stuff without a doc, though they typically partner w/ a doc for complicated patients or questions.

  4. Love the tips! Your right it can save time and money if you ask questions. Taking someone with you to help ask those questions and give support can be helpful like you said. I always went with my Mom as she got older. She looked at me real mean one time and said you sure do ask a lot of questions. Well they needed to be asked!

  5. Very good list. One thing I’ve noticed is if I book an appointment to talk about my upcoming bunion surgery they don’t want to discuss other things like the tendinitis in my elbow. They want you to make another office visit. I ask my questions anyway.

  6. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    Really good tips, Gary, but I’d add one more: Prioritize getting your annual wellness visits. Jon and I probably both need to do a better job of that, especially as we get older, to make sure nagging little things at least get examined before they blow up into bigger things.

  7. Great tips, Gary. We’ve entered a new phase with Obamacare. When we go for Mr. G’s physical next week we need to be very specific in only getting tests that are covered. Otherwise we could be paying hundreds of dollars for unnecessary screenings. The hospital system our providers are affiliated with have a good online tool for managing records. We can view all our tests, EOBs, prescriptions, etc. We can also use it for making appointments, asking a question or requesting a prescription.

    1. It’s great that you can check all of your records online and avoid the massive paper stacks that we used to always have. As far as Obamacare goes, since I’m not on it at this point, I’m not sure exactly what changes have been made or will be made, and I’m sorry you’re going to have to deal with that for the foreseeable future. Hopefully (although who knows), our government will come up with a suitable substitute in the near future. Thanks for your comments, Mrs. Groovy.

  8. Couldn’t agree more about bringing a list of questions. It’s so easy to forget what I was thinking about or wondering once I get in there, as I get a bit nervous at medical appointments. Our doctor’s office prints a summary which is helpful, and I always keep those in case I forget something.

    If a procedure is recommended and you’re not sure whether it’s covered, ask the medical billing receptionist for the diagnosis and procedure codes. Then call your insurance company with the info and they will be able to tell you for sure if it’s covered. When I found about these codes I felt much more empowered to get good answers about coverage.

    1. Thanks, Kalie, for the information about the codes. That’s a great way to be able to check in advance to see what you will be dealing with in terms of cost. I too get nervous going to the doctor, and I’ve been going to the doctor a loooong time. So having my questions written out is also a big help to me.

  9. LNweaver

    That’s a good tip to make sure your doctor is in your network. That way you can use your insurance to keep your costs down. It’s important to have regular medical check-ups so that a doctor can catch the early signs of any ailments developing.

  10. Hey Gary,

    Thanks for sharing these great tips! I always do my research first and I list my questions so I could maximize the time I have with the doctor. If there is a procedure, surgery needed, I always ask for a second opinion.

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