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How to Maximize the First Visit with your Doctor

Timothy Gardner, MD
Director, Pancreatic Disorders
Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center

Often, a visit to a medical provider, whether it be a new visit or a follow-up visit with a longstanding doctor or nurse, provokes anxiety.  This sense of anxiety can be especially true if you are visiting a doctor for the first time and are being evaluated for a problem with the pancreas.

In order to make the most of your visit, I recommend the following steps that you can take to make the appointment as worthwhile as possible.

Educate yourself as much as possible before the visit

It is very important to try and understand as much as possible about your condition prior to the visit.  A great resource is the NPF website, which can give you a wealth of information about the role of the pancreas in terms of its location and function.  You can also read about the different diseases that can affect the pancreas – acute pancreatitis, chronic pancreatitis, pancreatic cancer, etc.  Most people do not know a great deal about the pancreas, so having at least a little bit of knowledge before the appointment can really help you to ask important questions about your disease.

Make sure you know your medications and medical history

It is very helpful for your doctor to have an up-to-date and accurate list of medications at your appointment.  In addition, a thorough knowledge of your medical history, a list of treatments and evaluations that have been tried before, can usually be very helpful.

Make sure your provider has a copy of your x-ray tests before the appointment

Virtually all decisions regarding how to treat your pancreatic disease will rely on x-rays that have been performed before the appointment.  Usually, these x-rays take the form of a CAT scan or an MRI scan.  These x-rays are usually stored on CDs and it is critical for your doctor to have these when you are seen for your appointment. Often, it only takes a phone call to your doctor’s office to make sure the CD is available.  However, if not, you should make sure to bring a copy with you to the appointment.  Copies can be picked up usually free of charge at the facility where you had your x-rays taken.

Arrive early

It is very important to arrive between 20-30 minutes prior to the first appointment.  The doctor’s office may have paperwork to fill out and you really want to maximize the amount of time you have with your provider.

Ask to coordinate multiple appointments on the same day

Sometimes it is possible to coordinate many of your appointments on the same day.  For example, if you know that you are going to need a CAT scan performed, you can call ahead and ask your doctor to coordinate these appointments on the same day. Especially, if you live far away from your doctor, this can be very helpful and efficient.

Consider arriving to the appointment fasting

If there is no medical contraindication, it is sometimes reasonable to try and come to the appointment not having eaten or drank since midnight the night before the appointment.  This can aid your doctor, if for example, there are labs that need to be performed that require fasting, or if your doctor would like to schedule an x-ray test or perhaps have you undergo a procedure that same day.  Of course, this is not a requirement and should not be undertaken if there is a medical reason not to fast.  You can also call your doctor’s office a few days ahead of the appointment to see if fasting would be appropriate.

Hopefully these simple steps can really help to relieve some of the anxiety heading into that first appointment and maximize the benefit of your visit.