How to make the most of your doctor’s visit
Dear Savvy Senior,
Can you write a column educating patients on how to prepare for doctors appointments? I manage a number of small health clinics, and have found that patients -- especially seniors -- that come prepared when they visit our doctors are much more satisfied with the care they receive. Thanks for your help.
You’re right. Studies have shown that patients who help their doctors by providing important health information and preparing themselves for appointments tend to get better care than patients who don’t. Here are some simple things we can all do to help maximize our next visit to the doctor.
Before Your Appointment
Gathering your health information and getting organized before your appointment are the key steps to ensuring a productive meeting with your doctor. This is especially important if you’re seeing multiple doctors or are meeting with a new physician for the first time. Specifically, you need to:
Get your test results: Make sure the doctor you’re seeing has copies of your latest X-ray, MRI, or any other test or lab results, including reports from other doctors that you’ve seen. In most cases, you’ll need to do the leg work yourself which may only require a phone call to your previous doctor asking them to send it, or you may need to go pick it up and take it yourself.
List your medications: Make a list of all the medications you’re taking (prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, minerals, and herbal supplements) along with the dosages and take it with you to your appointment. Or, just gather up all your pill bottles and put them in a bag and bring them with you.
Gather your health history: Your doctor also needs to know about any previous hospitalizations, as well as any current or past medical problems, even if they are not the reason you are going to the doctor this time. Genetics matter too, so having your family’s health history can be helpful. The U.S. Surgeon General offers a free web-based tool called “My Family Health Portrait” (see familyhistory.hhs.gov) that can help you put one together.
Prepare a list of questions: Make a written list of the top three or four issues you want to discuss with your doctor. Since most appointments last between 10 and 15 minutes, this can help you stay on track and ensure you address your most pressing concerns first. If you’re in for a diagnostic visit, you should prepare a detailed description of your symptoms.
During Your Appointment
The best advice when you meet with your doctor is to speak up. Don’t wait to be asked. Be direct, honest, and as specific as possible when recounting your symptoms or expressing your concerns. Many patients are reluctant or embarrassed to talk about their symptoms, which makes the doctor’s job a lot harder to do. It’s also a good idea to bring along a family member or friend to your appointment. They can help you ask questions, listen to what the doctor is telling you, and give you support.
Also consider taking some notes or ask the doctor if you can record the session for later review. If you don’t understand what the doctor is telling you, ask him or her to explain it in simple terms so you can understand. And if you run out of time and don’t get your questions answered, ask if you can follow up by phone or email, make another appointment, or seek help from the doctor’s nurse.
Savvy tip: The National Institute on Aging offers a booklet called “Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People” that provides great information including a variety of questions to ask that can help you be a more informed patient. To get a free copy mailed to you, call 1-800-222-2225 or visit www.nia.nih.gov.
Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC “Today” show and author of The Savvy Senior book. Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org.
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