Female doctor consulting her patient

How to Prepare for Your First Specialist Visit

For some people, medical care stops and starts with an annual checkup. Unfortunately, everyone isn’t so lucky. Accidents happen, and problems arise that require more than what a primary care physician can offer.

In these cases, you should visit a medical professional with advanced knowledge in your specific area. Medical specialists provide extensive care that goes beyond general practice. For example: gynecologists explicitly focus on conditions affecting female reproductive health, while urologists treat diseases affecting the kidneys, bladder, and male reproductive organs.

The process for finding a specialist depends on your type of coverage. For most HMO (health maintenance organization) plans, a primary care physician coordinates all health care services. That means, unless it’s an emergency, your PCP must provide a referral for you to receive outside treatment. Members with a PPO (preferred provider organization) have the freedom to see any doctor, specialist or otherwise, without a referral.

Once a doctor is chosen, you must prepare for the visit. The initial meeting is crucial because it lays the foundation for all future care. Patients should come with vital information such as medical records and identification. Important items to bring include:

  • Insurance card
  • Valid driver’s license or photo ID
  • A list of prescriptions or vitamins you’re currently taking
  • Names of other specialists you’re currently seeing
  • A copy of your medical records from your primary care physician. If they’re not available, request them to be sent over to the specialist’s office.

At the end of your visit, ask for their contact information and instructions on what to do in case of an emergency. Confirm the nearest urgent care and the best pharmacy to fill any prescriptions.

Throughout this process, there must be a line of communication between the specialist and primary care physician.  Any diagnosis and its corresponding treatment should be reported to the referring doctor. This will prevent redundancies such as duplicate tests or unnecessary screenings.

Medical personnel don’t always make the necessary connections. One study found that although 80.6% of specialists claim to send consultation reports “always” or “most of the time,” only 62.2% of primary care physicians said they received them. There should be an open dialogue about treatment with all parties involved. Don’t be afraid to speak up and be an active participant in your care.

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Photo credit: Eva-Katalin

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