Prepare for Your Appointment

Something isn’t quite right. What used to work just fine, doesn’t work. What didn’t hurt, now does. Even if you are visiting the doctor for preventative care, you are responsible for making sure you get everything you need from your doctor and from this appointment.

Make the Call

Call the gastroenterologist’s office to set up an appointment. If you are not a regular patient, don’t even ask if they can go ahead and schedule a colonoscopy or other lab work. They won’t. They need to meet you first, review your symptoms, and go from there. However, there may be some standard diagnostic testing, lab work, or stool samples, which typically occur at the first visit. Determine what you can’t eat or drink prior to the appointment.

What to Bring with You

Ask your physician’s office if there is anything in particular they will need you to bring. Your referring physician should forward the reason for the referral, as well as copies of recent laboratory results, X-ray reports, and so on, to the GI doctor. Allow plenty of time for the office to do so, but confirm a day or so before your appointment to make sure the information was received. Otherwise, plan on bringing along:

  • A copy of your most recent insurance card

  • Referral form (for your insurance needs)

  • Recent lab work results and X-rays

  • Food/symptom journal

  • A list of medications you are currently taking and those you have

  • taken in the past, along with notes about how well they worked and

  • if side effects were a concern.

How do I get copies of my medical records from my primary care physician?

Records that come from other doctors’ offices are the property of that physician’s office, and only you can give authorization to have those records transferred. You must first sign a release form (available at your referring physicians’ office or your specialist’s) and ask that those records be sent to your new physician.

Decide on a Primary Objective

Prepare for your doctor’s appointment in advance. Take the time to write down everything—your symptoms, allergies, medicines, previous medical procedures, conditions, and past diseases. Bring this information with you and show your gastroenterologist.

You may wish to ask a friend or family member to come to the appointment with you. Sometimes another set of ears can take notes or just make sure you don’t miss valuable information.

Most people think they will remember everything the doctor says, but we often don’t. Consider taking notes. Bring along a pen and paper and write down your gastroenterologist’s answers.

During the visit, bring up your biggest concerns first. Let your gastroenterologist know which symptoms bother you the most, and are affecting your lifestyle. Do not hesitate to talk about your feelings if your symptoms are causing you to feel worried, depressed, or embarrassed. Your emotions are a part of who you are.

The most important thing to bring with you is a brief, specific explanation of your current health concern. For example, “I know it’s time for a checkup, and I wanted to know what tests I should have at my age.” Do not say, “My stomach hurts.” Instead, try “After I eat anything, I have severe cramping in my lower abdomen, and I feel nauseous for an hour afterward.”

Insurance Coverage

Verify that your insurance covers the gastroenterologist or if they require a referral from your primary care physician. Use your insurance company’s web-based search tool or call your insurance representative. Have the gastroenterologist’s office address and phone number ready.

Before you go in for your appointment, call your insurance company and find out what is covered and what you need to do for prior authorization. There may be some tests that will only be covered if ordered by a primary care physician, and not by a specialist, so find out first exactly what your plan covers.

Dealing with health insurance can be time-consuming, frustrating, and confusing, especially if you have a chronic health problem. You may be surprised to discover your plan will cover a variety of different treatment options, such as a pain management clinic or mental health professional, if your quality of life is severely impacted by your condition.

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