Visiting the doctor—for the first time or for yet another follow-up—can be overwhelming.

Chuck Vega, MD, a family medicine physician in Santa Ana, California, offers these suggestions for preparing for an appointment:

Pick the top three concerns you want to discuss: If you are seeing a clinician and have multiple issues to address, let them know before the appointment so they can make sure to schedule enough time for the visit.

Bring a list of your current medications: This includes over-the-counter medications, supplements, and anything you are ingesting for your health.

Set up early for telehealth appointments: Ensure you have a good Internet connection, and that your camera and microphone are working prior to your appointment.

Vega says it is important to understand a few key things:

You and your doctor may have different priorities: Doctors want to keep their patients healthy. While a colon cancer screening may not be on your agenda, it may be for your doctor.

There are few perfect solutions in medicine: Providers cannot solve every challenge, but they can try to work together with patients to create the best outcomes.

Doctors are human too: Everyone has bad days, including your health care provider. However, they should always treat you with respect.

Vega, who frequently sees Latinx patients, notes that while no provider is completely free of bias, having a culturally responsive provider is important for individuals in underserved populations, who may have a fear of the health care system.

To communicate effectively, Vega suggests:

Make declarative statements: Tell your provider your functional goals and objectives, like seeing your grandkids get married or walking a 5K.

Be honest: Tell your provider about barriers to your health. Ask why tests, procedures, or medications are needed. “It is the provider’s job to educate, inform, and work with you on solutions,” Vega says.

If you are feeling unsatisfied, be frank: For example, if you have not heard back about lab results, Vega suggests directly asking your provider for an update. “Giving a negative grade online is not nearly as effective for change,” he explains.

Effective patient-provider communication is important for improving health outcomes. Arriving at your appointment prepared, bringing someone with you if that is helpful, and being honest with your health care provider is the best way to ensure a successful visit.

“No patient-provider relationship is perfect, but the best alliances come from both parties working together,” says Vega.

Samantha Melton