Ready? Set? Go! Prepping for Your Healthcare Appointment
You don’t need to wear a lab coat to be an equal partner in your health care—just do a little prep work before your appointment, and you’ll see the results in improved care and better health.
You count on your healthcare providers to have the knowledge and expertise to treat you—but they're counting on you to share your knowledge too. In order for you to get the high-quality care you deserve, they need to understand your concerns and questions about your health. It also helps them to have some information about your medical history. By doing a little “homework” before your appointment, you send the message that you see yourself as more than just a patient—you’re a partner in your own care.
Setting Up Your VISIT
When you call a provider’s office for an appointment, the office staff will want to know two things:
- What specific issue or problem are you having? It’s important to answer this question clearly and honestly. Give as much information as you can—and don’t be embarrassed to tell them what made you call, especially if it’s something related to your sexual health. You can bet the staff has heard it all before.
- How do you plan to pay for your visit? If you have health insurance, have your card in hand when you call for the appointment. If you don’t have insurance, talk with the office staff about your payment options and ways to connect to health insurance providers.
Know Before You Go
You can make the most of your visit if you’re ready to answer these basic questions before you arrive for your appointment:
- What do you hope to get from the visit? Be clear about what you want your provider to do for you. Are you looking for pain relief? Do you need a referral to a specialist? Most visits are less than 20 minutes—so write down or type up in your phone a note of any questions or requests you have before you go, so that you don’t forget to ask them in the rush.
- Do you have any medical problems? When you make an appointment, you’re usually focused on the one thing that made you call—but certain medical conditions can affect your health in ways that may not be obvious to you. Be sure to mention any other significant health issues you may be facing (e.g., diabetes, kidney disease).
- Do you take any medications? Your provider needs to know if you’re taking either prescription meds or street drugs (especially ones you inject). For prescriptions, the best thing is to take the actual meds with you to the visit—but if that isn’t possible, snap a quick photo or write down the names of all the meds you take, the dosages, and how often you take them. (Don’t forget to include vitamins and herbal supplements!) If you’re doing street drugs, don’t be afraid to say so—that’s confidential information and your provider can’t reveal it to anyone else.
- Do you see other healthcare providers? If so, it will help your provider to know the names of your other providers and what kinds of treatment you’re getting from them.
- Do you know your family medical history? Providers typically want to know the health history of your “immediate family”—which means your parents and any brothers or sisters you may have. That’s because certain conditions can run in families, and having that information can help your provider pay special attention to your risks for things like cancer, heart disease, or depression. But don’t worry if you don’t know the specifics—your own health history is the most important one.
- Do you have allergies? Your provider needs to know if you’ve ever had an allergic reaction to particular medicines, foods, or materials (e.g., latex).
- Are you sexually active? Tell your provider if you have sex with men, women, and/or transgender partners, and if you are having sex with more than one person. It’s also important to share what kinds of sexual activities you prefer. Are you a “top,” a “bottom,” or “versatile,” depending on the situation and your partner? Do you engage in other sexual activities besides penetration?
- Do you have sex without a condom? It’s crucial for you to be honest about this. Let your provider know if you have anal, oral, or vaginal sex without a condom—and how often you go raw.
- Do you need more information about PrEP? Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a prescription drug you can take once a day to protect yourself from getting HIV through sex or injecting drugs. Talk to your provider about whether PrEP could be right for you—and check out other HIV prevention options, like condoms and sterile needles if you inject drugs.