Seeing a doctor

Routine, urgent and emergency care


"Getting needed care" is a guide with helpful tips on:

  • How soon you should expect to see your doctor
  • The difference between routine, urgent and emergency care
  • What to do in different medical situations

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Making the most of your doctor’s visit

You’re irritable. You’re tired. Your shoulder hurts. Your hip hurts. Your stomach aches and your eyes twitch. You’re not sure if these symptoms are related or if they have nothing to do with one other. That’s why you’re going to see your doctor. To make the most of your visit, think about what the doctor needs to know to have a better idea of what’s troubling you.

Remember, the more information you can give your doctor, the better it will be for both of you. This holds true for behavioral health appointments, regular checkups and for when you’re not feeling well.

You should tell your doctor as much as you can about your health and the way you live. This way, together, you can find out what what’s wrong. 

Here are some tips to help you prepare for your doctor's visit

These tips may also help when you have to take your child or parent to the doctor.

  • What you’re feeling
  • When it started
  • When it happens and how long it lasts
  • How often it happens
  • What makes it worse or better
  • What it keeps you from doing
  • Prescription drugs
  • Over-the-counter drugs that don’t need prescriptions
  • Vitamins, herbal remedies or supplements
  • Laxatives
  • Eye drops

Some doctors like to see the medications and ask you to bring them with you. Others prefer to see a list. It’s always good to have a list handy, just in case someone else needs to take you to the doctor.

  • If you make a medication list, write down the dosage, how much you take and how often you take it.
  • Make sure to tell the doctor if a dose has changed, or if you are taking a new medicine.
  • Write down or bring all your medications. You may think some medications are not important, but they are because they need to work together. Also, sometimes a medicine you take for something like a headache can cause other problems.
  • Write down any allergies you have to medication and any side effects you’ve had with the medicines you take.
  • Write down what medications work best for you.
  • Where you live
  • How you get around (driving, bus, walking)
  • What you eat
  • How well you sleep
  • Things you do every day
  • Things you like to do
  • If you smoke, drink alcohol, or take drugs and how much, how often
  • If you use a walker, cane, hearing aids or anything else to help you in your daily activities

Has anything changed that has made you sad or stressed or maybe very happy? Maybe you got divorced, lost your home, or joined a new community group and have made friends. Share this with your doctor because life changes can affect your health.

  • Write down the doctor’s name and phone number
  • Write down if you’ve gone to the emergency room, when and what for
  • Write down if you’ve seen a specialist, when and what for
  • Your insurance cards
  • Names and phone numbers of your other doctors
  • Name the phone number of your pharmacy
  • Medical records if your doctor doesn’t have them

Taking children to the doctor

Going to the doctor is not a lot of fun, especially for kids. They may be afraid to go or feel guilty about having to go.

  • Separation. Kids don’t like to be left alone in a room with strangers, especially if they don’t know what these strangers are doing. 
  • Pain. Kids may worry that something may hurt. They fear needles and injections the most.
  • The doctor. Some kids may not like the doctor. They may feel he or she is mean or doesn’t care about them. 
  • Not knowing. Because they don’t know, kids worry that their problem may be much worse than their parents say. Some think they may need an operation. Or they may think they will have to stay at the hospital. Those who are sick may even worry about dying. 

Children have great imaginations. They may think that they’re sick because they did or did not do something. So, they might see a doctor’s visit is a punishment.

  • Tell them why they’re seeing the doctor:  Is it for a checkup? Explain to them that they’re growing and changing. And the doctor is just making sure that they are healthy. Is it because they’re sick? Then tell them in a soft way that the doctor “needs to see them to find out what’s wrong and how to make it better.”
  • Tell them it’s not their fault:  Let them know they’re not being punished. “ALL kids get sick some times. That’s why it’s great to have a doctor that can make you well.”
  • Does it run in the family?  Let your child know if others have this same problem so they don’t feel alone or afraid.
  • If they’re being made fun of:  If your child needs to see a doctor for something like head lice, pinworm or bedwetting, they may be ashamed. Maybe other kids or adults have made fun of them. If this happens, tell your child again and again that it is not his fault and that many kids get this kind of thing all the time.

Children love to play. So use playtime to talk to them about any fears they have. Use a doll or a teddy bear to show them how the nurse will measure how tall they are and how much they weigh.


  • "Hug the arm" to measure their blood pressure
  • Look in their mouth (holding the tongue down with a special stick for just a few seconds to see the throat)
  • Look at the eyes and into the ears
  • Listen to the chest and back for any weird sounds the body could be making
  • Tap or press on the tummy to listen to or feel what's inside
  • Tap on the knees
  • Look at the feet

Let your kids know that doctors, nurses and parents must sometimes examine all parts of the body. But remind them that these are the only people that should do that. Let your children know you’ll be with them during the checkup.

If your kids are going to the doctor or a specialist because they’re sick, you may not even know what they are going to do. A good way to find out is to speak to the nurse or doctor when you call to make the appointment. This way you can tell your kids, in simple terms, what to expect.

Don’t give too many details, but do explain if the exam is going to hurt or embarrass them. And assure them that the exam is needed to make them well. This way they’ll be prepared and will trust you in the future.



NIH Senior Health