Dear Savvy Senior,
I manage a large health clinic that treats thousands of seniors each year, and we’ve have found that patients that come prepared when they visit our doctors are much more satisfied with the care they receive. Can you write a column educating patients on how to prepare for doctor’s appointments?
There’s no doubt about it. 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.
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. Specifically, you need to:
Get your test results: If you’re seeing a new doctor for the first time, make sure he or she has copies of your latest X-ray, MRI or any other test or lab results you’ve recently had, 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 including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, supplements and herbs, along with the dosages and take it with you to your appointment. Or, just put all your pill bottles in a bag so you can take them with you.
Know your health history: Being able to talk to your doctor about any previous medical problems and procedures, even if they’re not the reason you are going to the doctor this time, can make an office visit much more efficient. Write it down if it’s complicated. Genetics matter too, so knowing your family’s health history can also be helpful.
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 around 15 to 20 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.
The best advice when you meet with your doctor is to speak up and get to the point. So right away, concisely explain why you’re there. Don’t wait to be asked. Be direct, honest and as specific 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 bringing 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.
For more information, the National Institute on Aging offers an excellent booklet called “Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People” that can help you prepare for an appointment and become a more informed patient. To get a free copy mailed to you, call 800-222-2225 or visit order.nia.nih.gov.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.