How to go to the doctor

Do you need to learn how to go to the doctor in America? Read about finding a doctor, making an appointment and talking to medical workers. Find out what to do if you need an interpreter.

Closeup of stethoscope and phone

How do I find a doctor?

Most communities have health centers or health clinics with primary care providers and other medical services. You can ask friends and neighbors who they recommend. You can ask your resettlement office or mentor to help you find a primary care provider  – your everyday family doctor.

You can also look in FindHello for healthcare providers in your city. Many of these providers offer services for refugees and other newcomers and to people without insurance.

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FindHello is an app you can use to look for help near you. It shows a map and list of services for immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and undocumented people in the USA. Search for legal help, English classes, healthcare, housing support, and more.

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What if I have an emergency?

If you have a life-threatening emergency, you should go your local hospital’s emergency department or call 911.

For medical issues that are not emergencies, but you still need a doctor quickly, you can go to an urgent care and walk-in clinics. These often have evening and weekend hours and provide care without an appointment.

For any other healthcare problems, common illnesses, or to get a check-up or vaccinations, you should make an appointment with a primary care doctor.

How do I make an appointment to go to the doctor?

You will need to make an appointment to see the doctor. You can make an appointment by calling the doctor’s office. If you are nervous about your English, ask a friend or relative to help you to make the call or to go to the doctor with you. You can also ask the office to get a translator on the phone to help you to communicate with them. See below for how to prepare for the call.

Before calling, find your health insurance card

The doctor’s office will ask for information about you. Your health insurance information (if you have insurance) is on your health insurance card.

  • Member ID # (This is usually a long string of numbers and letters on the front of the card)
  • Name of your insurance plan
  • Date of enrollment for your insurance plan

(If you don’t have this information available, you can call your insurance company first and they will be able to tell you the information over the phone so that you can write it down.)

If you do not have health insurance yet, find out how to get health insurance in the USA.

When you call

When someone answers the phone, let them know that you need to find a doctor and you want to schedule an appointment. You will need to explain what it is for. If you need them to find an interpreter, now is a good time to ask for help.

The person at the doctor’s office will ask questions about you and your health insurance. They will offer you an appointment time. If that is a good time for you, you can say yes and your appointment will be scheduled.  If the time they offer is not good for you, tell them right away, and they will look for another time that is better for you.

Write down the time, date, and address of the appointment.

Once you have made your appointment, try to keep it

Many doctors have strict cancellation policies, where patients have to pay for appointments if they do not come or if they cancel at the last minute. Also, if a patient misses too many appointments without calling to cancel, that patient may not be welcome at that office.

Canceling your appointment

Try to call two days before if you cannot make an appointment. Even one day ahead or the same day is better than not calling at all. If you call at least one day before your appointment, you will avoid a cancellation fee.

Be on time for your appointment

When you go to the doctor, show up on time or early for your appointment. Usually, you will have to fill out some forms before you to the office.  If you are confused about what to write in these forms, you can ask a friend, relative, or the office receptionist to help you.

Remember, if you are very late for your appointment, it is possible that your time will be given away and you will not be allowed to see the doctor. Try not to be late!

What to bring to your appointment

  • Bring your insurance card and any other source of payment that you need
  • Bring a list of any medication that you take
  • Bring a list of any known allergies
  • Write down any questions you have for the doctor and bring them with you
  • Paper and pen in case you want to write down notes

How do I talk to the doctor?

Here are some tips for how to communicate when you go to the doctor,

Take notes

Write down any questions you have to bring with you when you see your healthcare provider. During your appointment, you can take notes on what you learn. You may wish to bring a family member or friend with you to take notes. That way you can focus your attention on asking the questions you have and listening to what your provider has to say.

Ask questions

Don’t be embarrassed to ask for something to be repeated. You can also ask the doctor to write a summary of your appointment and any information about prescriptions you need to take. You can then ask a friend to translate the information to make sure you understand. If you still have questions, you can call the nurse at the doctor’s office after your appointment.

Learn more

Your provider may make a diagnosis, which is the identification of the specific illness affecting you. Make sure you understand why they’ve made the diagnosis and ask them to recommend resources to help you learn more about the illness. Ask them to look up translated information about the diagnosis.

Be truthful

To make a diagnosis, your provider will ask you questions about your current and past health history. It’s important that you answer these questions honestly and accurately. The information you provide will help direct the care you receive.

Make sure you understand

As your appointment ends make sure you understand the next steps. Your provider may say you don’t need to return until your next regularly scheduled appointment or they may want to see you sooner or have you referred to a specialist for treatment.

If you are confused about what comes next, ask for the plan to be explained again. You can also ask them to write down the plan and the date for any future appointments. Make sure you have a phone number for your healthcare provider so you can contact them if any questions arise once you return home. Remember that you are an important link in your own healthcare plan.

Ask for help when you need it

Just like in a medical office, if you go to the doctor for care in a hospital, you need to understand the plan for your care. Hospitals have a large staff with many people serving in different roles, but there will be a doctor or other provider assigned to you. This person is ultimately responsible for your care and you need to know who they are. You will be assigned a nurse too. Nurses are wonderful resources and you should feel free to ask them any questions you have.

Important things to remember

1. Choose a primary care provider. This will be your main doctor and the first person you usually go to first if you get sick.

2. If you have see a new doctor, make sure they are in your insurance network so that your insurance will pay for the visit. This will help you to avoid receiving a large bill in the mail that you didn’t expect.

3. Bring your insurance card with you to every medical appointment or visit to the pharmacy.

4. If you take medications, always bring a list with the names of the medications that you take.

Language access

You have the right to be able to communicate easily with your doctor. If you or a family member is having difficulty at the doctor’s office due to language, you can always ask for an interpreter. Most doctor’s offices and hospitals will be able to get an interpreter in person or on the phone who can assist you.