Doctor's visits

Make the most of your healthcare appointment

Key points about getting the most out of your healthcare provider visits

  • Many GP, nurse or other healthcare appointments are only 15 minutes long and it’s easy to leave feeling like you haven’t covered everything you wanted to.
  • So how do make the most of the time you have?
  • Here are our tips for getting the most out of your visit to your GP or other healthcare provider. These apply to telehealth appointments as well.
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Before your appointment, take some time to write down all of your symptoms and how long you’ve had them. You may think you’ll remember them once you’re at your appointment but it’s so easy to forget things once you’re actually there. It’s also a good idea to remind your healthcare provider of any relevant medical history.

It's also helpful to be prepared to talk about other things that might be troubling you that can affect your health. Maybe you're not as good at getting around as you used to be, are feeling a bit down, or have a new ache or pain affecting your sleep. Perhaps you're struggling to keep your house and garden under control or have a partner who snores. Your healthcare provider may well be able to help, but they can't help if they don't know what you're dealing with. Make a list of these broader aspects of life as well.  

If you have a lot going on, or haven't seen a healthcare provider for a while, think about booking a double appointment slot to have more time to talk.

Before your appointment, write down any questions you might have. It’s so easy to refer to a list once you’re there. Remember, there’s no such thing as a silly question. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. Health issues can sometimes be complicated and hard to understand so it’s completely normal to ask for something to be explained in a simpler way.

There's a really good resource developed by the Health Quality & Safety Commission, NZ called P.L.A.N. which you can find here

Prepare for your visit

  • Write down your main concerns or questions.
  • Make a list of your medicines and supplements.  
  • Did you know you can take a support person with you and ask for a translator? 

Listen and share

  • Say if you don’t understand and if a drawing could help.  
  • Say if you’re having problems with your medicines or treatment, or can’t afford them.  
  • Is there anything else you can tell your doctor or nurse about your health?

Ask questions

  • What is my health problem?  
  • What happens next?  
  • Why is that important?
  • Are there any other options?  
  • What can I do to help with my health?

Note down what you need to do next

Going to the doctor can be a bit nerve-wracking and overwhelming, especially if your appointment is regarding something you’re worried or embarrassed about. Having somebody there to support you can help you relax and feel more at ease. It's also another set of ears to pick up parts of the discussion you might not understand.

At the end of your appointment, ask your healthcare provider for a summary of what’s been discussed. Repeat it back so you’re sure you’ve understood it properly. It’s often a good idea to get them to write down any relevant information, especially concerning medication, just to be certain you’ve got it right. 

Your healthcare provider might suggest a test, procedure or treatment plan. Choosing Wisely Aotearoa recommends 4 questions you can ask when discussing test, treatment or procedure options for you or your whānau.

1. Do I really need this test, treatment or procedure?

Discuss with your healthcare provider what the test, treatment or procedure is, what it involves, why they have suggested it and whether it’s necessary or not.

2. What are the risks?

Ask if there are any risks involved and weigh those up. Are there any side effects? Talk about what would happen if you do, or don’t have the test, treatment or procedure. Ask about the accuracy of results and whether you could you get a false positive or false negative result.

3. Are there simpler, safer options?

Talk about alternative tests, treatments or procedures. Maybe a lifestyle change such as exercising more, cutting back on alcohol or eating healthier food is all that’s needed.

4. What happens if I don’t do anything?

Ask what would happen if you don’t have the test, treatment or procedure right away, or at all. Would your condition get worse or better? What are the risks of delaying it or not doing it at all?

Sometimes it can be a bit embarrassing discussing things to do with your body or answering certain questions. But it’s really important that you tell the truth. Not telling the truth can actually be harmful as it can affect your diagnosis and care, or cause further issues if you have medications that don't mix, or symptoms you haven't talked about. If you lie or omit the truth, you’re only hurting yourself. And remember, your healthcare professional has heard and seen it all before!

If you aren't already using a patient portal, ask if your GP practice is offering the service. A patient portal is a convenient, secure online website where you can view your health record anytime and interact with your healthcare providers. Patient portals streamline communication between patient and provider, giving you more control over your own healthcare.

Video: How to get the most out of your general practice visit (with captions)

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(Credit: Healthify He Puna Waiora NZ, 2020)

Video: Getting the most out of your General Practitioner GP appointment

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(Credit: Listening to Families, NZ, 2023)

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Credits: Healthify editorial team. Healthify is brought to you by Health Navigator Charitable Trust.

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