New patients 101
This week’s feature examines First Choice Healthcare, celebrating its 40th year of helping underserved areas throughout the state stay in tip-top shape. But while First Choice is accepting new patients, Michelle Melendez says that appointments and routine visits are difficult to schedule right away. Most folks wait several weeks. Here’s a checklist of things to do during that time to ensure your visit runs smoothly.
• If you have insurance, check with them to see if First Choice is in your network. Double-check your policy’s co-pay and deductible. Call and ask how much it’ll cost you if you need lab work or X-rays. That way you have an idea of how much you’ll be paying out of pocket.
• If you don’t have insurance, gather any documents you might need for financial assistance. This might include tax returns, W2 and 1099 forms, pay stubs, bank statements, proof of residence (utility bills), identification documents (social security card, birth certificates, etc.), picture ID (driver’s license), daycare documents, and documents from any other financial assistance or insurance programs you’re enrolled in. Make a file for you, your spouse and your kids.
• Gather a family medical history. Your provider wants to know about the health status of first-degree relatives (parents, siblings and children) as well as any conditions that affect multiple extended family members (for example, if you have three cousins and an aunt affected by lupus).
• Gather your own health history. This includes past diagnoses, current diagnoses, previous surgeries or injuries, immunization status, current medications (including herbs and supplements), and allergy history.
• Be prepared to discuss some personal social issues. Your provider may want to know who you sleep with, if you smoke or drink or use drugs, if you exercise, what your diet is like, where you work, how things are going at home, and if you feel safe and happy. These questions can be uncomfortable but they are not meant to judge. They’re to help your provider select the labs, treatments or referrals you need.
• If a particular symptom is bothering you, keep a diary of that symptom until your appointment. For example, if you have bothersome headaches, write down when they happen, how bad they are, if you have other symptoms, how long they last, what you do to make them go away and what you were doing prior to the headache.
• Make a list of your medications (name of drug, dose, how often you take it), or just toss all your medication bottles in a brown paper bag and bring them with you to your appointment.
• Make a list of every single question or issue you’d like to address during the visit. Now number the first, second and third most important things to you on that list. You need to know your priorities going into that visit. Given time constraints, lesser priorities may have to be addressed at follow-up visits.
• Plan on wearing loose-fitting clothing that’s easily removed. I can’t tell you how many tripled-layer wool turtlenecks, high-waisted skintight pleather pants, and knee-high lace up boots I’ve wasted valuable time wrestling with during the physical exam.
• You may need to authorize your previous health care providers to release your medical records.
• If you have copies of any previous lab or test results, heck, bring ’em with you.
• Try to arrive about 15 minutes early for your visit. I always bring a girlie magazine to flip through or a novel to read in case the clinic is running behind.
• Answering calls or texting during your visit will slow things down. Let your peeps know you’ve got an important meeting beforehand so they don’t start blowing up your cell phone once you’re in the room with the doctor.