Making the most of your primary care visit

| Posted On Oct 04, 2011 | By:

Yesterday, I had a good day.  I walked out of a patient’s room feeling so happy because I did not feel rushed. I think it’s safe to say that the woman I saw felt good, too, unrushed and more reassured leaving the office than when she walked in. However, more and more across the country, people are leaving doctors’ offices feeling less than satisfied.

I bet just about all of you have had these thoughts and feelings at least once:

When you go to the doctor’s office, you want your concerns to be heard. You want a chance to say what’s on your mind and for your primary care provider to listen carefully, think about your problem, and then engage with you about how to evaluate or manage your concern.  Right? 

You know what?  This is exactly what we, as your primary care doctor or nurse practitioner, want as well! 

Here are a few tips to help you get the most out of your primary care visit:

Plan ahead for physicals.  It’s a good idea to call to book your appointment at least a few months in advance. 

Call earlier in the day.  If you wake up with stomach pains, it’s normal to wait and see if it goes away, but if you’ve tried some over-the-counter remedies and it is not getting better, then pick up the phone and call.  Nurses are available to triage your concerns, give you advice, and help you determine if you need to come in to get evaluated. 

At the beginning of each day, there are a certain number of open slots available for people calling in for a “same day” appointment. The earlier in the day you do call, the better your chances of being seen when it is convenient for you.

Arrive a little early.   Ideally, arrive 10-15 minutes before your scheduled appointment time. This allows for checking in at the front desk and a bathroom break before your appointment. 

What to bring to the visit.  You should bring an updated medication list, or if you don’t have time, put all your medication bottles in a plastic baggie and bring them with you.  It’s also a very good idea to think about and write down a prioritized list of the issues you want to discuss with your doctor.

Set realistic expectations for your time with your doctor. 

There are some variations among individual doctors, but for the most part, physical exam appointments are given 30-40 minutes.  All other appointments (urgent care and  follow-ups) are 15-20 minutes.  So, your doctor wants to address all of your issues today, but simply has time constraints.

During your appointment, doctors need  to address and assess your concerns, order tests, refill prescriptions, write up instruction sheets (After Visit Summaries) for you, and take some time to document what we discussed with you while it’s “fresh,” so we can ensure accurate information is placed into your medical record.

So, how much can I expect to be addressed in one visit?

Physical exam appointments are meant to address preventive health issues and any issues that you may have.  Having a prioritized list will ensure that your most pressing concerns have the most “press time.” 

Follow up appointments are generally scheduled in 15- to 20-minute slots and therefore allow enough time to address a major issue (uncontrolled diabetes, for example) or a few smaller issues (ongoing ankle pain and worsening allergies, for example).

Urgent care (or “same day”) appointments are really designed to address ONE issue, the problem that prompted you to call to see the doctor that day.

Bring up your most pressing concern first:  This is important so that we don’t run out of time to talk about your biggest concern. And try to do this even if you think it may be “embarrassing.”   Honestly, there are no embarrassing issues!  

Be prepared to change.  Clothes, that is!  Wear clothes that are easy to change in/out of. It is difficult to do a good exam and check-up around clothes.  This seemingly small thing can make a difference in the quality of your time spent at the office.

When possible, please give your doctor adequate lead-time to complete forms.  This is one of the things, along with following up on test results and reviewing specialist notes and plans of care that we often have to do at the end of our day so we can spend most of it meeting with patients.  Therefore, please understand that we usually can’t do them in the middle of the day. 

On calling your doctor.  Please be willing to speak initially with a nurse about your symptoms. They are well trained and work closely with your primary care doctor. If you say, “I only want to speak to Dr. X,” and Dr. X is seeing patients, then you may have to wait longer, and a nurse can give you some helpful initial recommendations.

Nurses not only have vast amounts of experience and expertise, but they also work closely with your primary care doctor as part of a close-knit team.  It benefits you to get to know different members of the team. 

The “Oh, I forgot to ask Dr. So-and-So about this!” after visit phenomenon.  No worries!  It happens.  You can either send your doctor a message via MyHealth, if it is non-urgent and can wait 24 hours for a reply.  Or, if it is urgent, then just call back with your concern. 


So, in a LARGE nutshell, these are a few ways you can get the most out of your primary care visit.  I am sure there are lots others, but it’s a start!

I encourage you to leave comments or criticism (constructive, please).  Only through open discussion can we improve communications and ultimately, care of you, our patients.

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About Dr. Fenny Lin

Undergraduate School: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA Medical School: Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, New York, NY Internship: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA Residency: University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA Fellowship: Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore MD Board Certification: American Board of Internal Medicine Personal Interests: Reading, spending time with family, playing board games, learning to dance.


  1. My husband and I need to select a new primary care provider for our family, so we appreciate your tips. I am glad you suggest arriving 10 to 15 minutes before the time of your scheduled appointment. We will keep this in mind when we find a reputable primary care provider and make an appointment.

    Comment by Charlotte Fleet on May 11, 2021 at 4:37 pm

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