It requires effort ahead of time to get the most out of a doctor’s appointment. As a geriatric care manager, I have accompanied many elderly clients to their doctor’s visits and the most fruitful and successful visits were those when the client and I were able to discuss expectations and the anticipated outcome of a visit ahead of time. When that happened, we came away with a firm understanding of what the doctor said because we took notes and had the benefit of two pairs of ears.
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How to get the most out of your visit
While these tips are crucial for seniors, they are useful for anyone preparing for a doctor’s appointment—in a medical office, via telehealth, or as an in-home visit (house call).
- Be picky when conducting your doctor search, from your primary care physician to your specialists. Every patient is different: some like straightforwardness, others seek kindness and softness. You may want to understand every detail, or you’d rather trust the doctor’s orders. If a friend or family member recommends a doctor and you don’t care for them, go ahead and make a change, sooner rather than later.
- Take an active role in planning for visiting your doctor. In advance of the appointment, keep a diary of your symptoms, feelings, contributing factors (diet, sleep, exercise, medication compliance, etc.) and questions to ask your doctor. Remember that how you feel emotionally—such as stressed, depressed, overwhelmed, irritable, or anxious—is as important to discuss as how you’ve been feeling physically. Be sure to document these feelings on your medical history form as well.
- Bring a list of your medications, dosages, and how frequently you take them. The most frustrating thing for a doctor is a patient who does not know their medication regimen and tries to describe pills by color and shape! That’s a waste of time for both parties. Any herbal, vitamin, supplement, or family remedy you use also should be disclosed.
- Bring someone with you! It is always a good idea to bring a trusted relative, friend, or care manager with you to appointments. Have you ever nodded in agreement, even though you didn’t understand what was being said? It happens. Sometimes hearing loss, or the doctor speaking too quickly or not explaining clearly can contribute to confusion or misunderstandings. A second set of eyes and ears can elicit better information and bring comfort and clarification after the visit.
- Be honest. Do not leave out details or feel embarrassed. Doctors have heard it all. If you want to discuss something privately, you always may ask your companion to leave the room temporarily.
- Keep an open mind, and do not self-diagnose. The internet is a powerful tool and source of information, but sometimes when we research our own symptoms, it can have a negative tunnel effect and send your health care provider down the wrong path. For example, don’t request a specific test because you “read about it online.” Describe your symptoms, rather than naming your condition, and trust your doctor to know the difference between a tension headache and a brain tumor. That being said, if you feel your doctor is not really listening to you, find one who does!
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