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Your guide to setting expectations for primary care visits

| Healthy You | Wellness

Male doctor with beard and glasses, wearing white coat talks to woman with long brown hair as she sits on exam table

How to focus on your priorities before, during and after your next medical appointment.

Whether it’s for your annual checkup or to have a new symptom checked out, being clear about your expectations can help you make the most of your appointment.

Primary care visits are designed to get you the right care when you need it.  

Think ahead of time before you arrive about what — and what not — to talk about during your visit.

“Keeping things simple for yourself can be one of the best ways to get the care you need and avoid feeling overwhelmed,” says Leon McCook, MD, a PeaceHealth family medicine practitioner in Vancouver, Washington.

He shares the following tips on setting expectations for a satisfying primary care visit.

Before your visit

What do you want to get out of your visit? Knowing this and sharing it with your provider’s office will help you achieve your goal. “While we want to take care of as many things as possible during your visit, we have to balance doing them well,” says Dr. McCook.  

  • Be specific when making your appointment. Whether you schedule online or on the phone, include details about what you’re coming in for. Will you be seen for a current condition? For example, is your blood pressure higher than your goal? Do you have a concern about medication? If so, which one? Do you think you have an infection?  Share details that will help your clinic plan for your visit and how much time you might need.  

    “If you commonly have several topics to discuss, I recommend increasing the frequency of visits,” says Dr. McCook. It’s better to give concerns enough time because your health is important. This may mean having separate visits rather than to try to squeeze everything into one.
  • What is your priority? Keep in mind what’s most important to you. Plan to share it right from the start so you and your provider will be sure to cover it.
  • Update your records. Note any changes to your health history, allergies, where you live, insurance coverage, etc. Do this ahead of time to allow your PCP’s office to work from the most current information.

During your visit

Your PCP is your partner. Working together, you’ll be able to see the whole picture of your health.

  • Is this an annual check-up? At a minimum — make sure you have one visit per year to review recommendations for your health. Even though these exams are longer than most, plan to bring just a few less-urgent questions to this appointment.
  • Is this visit focused on a new health concern? PCPs are great at helping if you have a new issue or when a chronic condition gets worse. Stick to topics that apply only to your new concern. If you’re not sure, ask your PCP if a topic should be included in the visit or wait until another time.
  • Review medications. Providers usually give enough medication to last until you’ll be seen in the office again. Ask if you need a follow-up visit before you run out of a medication.
  • Confirm your understanding. Before the visit ends, let your provider know you understand next steps. You might also confirm whether or how soon you need to be seen again for your health concern.

After your visit

By the time your visit ends, you might be eager to be on your way. Don’t rush out the door just yet. Take a breath and think over key information while it’s still fresh.

  • Review your after-visit summary (AVS).  This is a printed document usually handed to you by your PCP or medical assistant. It’s also available electronically on our patient portal, My PeaceHealth. The AVS typically shows:
    • Vital signs
    • Labs ordered/results (if any)
    • Imaging ordered/results (if any)
    • Orders
    • Medication list
    • Recommendations for the issues addressed
    • A return date (if any)
      Take a few minutes to look over the AVS while you’re still in the exam room or clinic so you can ask questions if they come up.
  • Report anything missing/mis-remembered. If you think something was missed, doesn’t line up with what you remember, or if you have questions, speak up before you leave.
  • Follow up on lab results. If your provider ordered lab or imaging tests, expect to get the results on My PeaceHealth or in a phone call from the clinic. “No news does not equal good news,” says Dr. McCook. If you haven’t heard or don’t see your results within 5-7 days, reach out to the office of the provider that ordered the test.

“Primary care in one word really is ‘continuity,’” says Dr. McCook.

When you set the right expectations for your PCP visit, you’re more likely to feel better about the care you get and you set yourself up for better health.  

portrait of Leon E. McCook MD

Leon E. McCook MD

Family Medicine
A board-certified family medicine physician, Dr. McCook joined PeaceHealth Medical Group after several years of practice with Providence Medical Group in Portland, Oregon. Born and raised in Florida, his interest in the Northwest was realized during several months of clinical rotations. Upon completing his family medicine training with the University of Nevada School of Medicine, he enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to practice in the Pacific Northwest and call it home. His philosophy to patient care is working collaboratively, treating care as a conversation including listening, educating, setting attainable goals, and providing close follow up. He strongly believes satisfaction for both patient and physician are obtained by agreeing on the definition of success for not only each visit, but for health. While a generalist by training, he has developed particular skills in asthma, diabetes, select small skin procedures, and LGBT medicine.