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5 Tips for Preparing for a Doctor’s Visit

By Christine Foley | 06/12/2019

A doctor assisting an older adult in a wheelchair

Doctor’s visits can oftentimes feel one-sided. We may schedule a visit with a physician to discuss an area of concern we have, or to receive a necessary treatment. However, the doctor may ask some questions, perform an exam, provide a diagnosis and write a prescription, leaving very limited time, if any, for us to ask our own sets of questions, or to discuss our areas of greatest importance. These days, it may feel like even less time is spent with our physicians than ever before, resulting in less engagement and even more unanswered questions. Because of this, preparing for each doctor’s visit is essential to ensure our questions are answered, concerns are addressed, and the best health decisions are made according to our needs. 

Here are some tips to help us make the most of our doctor’s appointments:

1. Make a list of concerns or symptoms

When do your symptoms arise: in the morning, during exercise or after eating something in particular? Giving our doctor as much information as possible is key in assisting them in diagnosing and treating, or in ordering additional tests. Providing specific descriptors is also helpful. If you are experiencing pain, is it stabbing, aching, dull or pressure related? Where is the location of the problem, and does it travel to different areas of your body? Think of this exercise as us painting a picture for our health practitioner by providing as much detail as we can recall. When describing our concerns, we should be honest and not minimize our problems for fear of what the doctor might think or say.

2. Prioritize your visit

We may want to consider making a list of questions before our visit so that we can stay on track during our appointment. We will most likely have a lot to squeeze into limited time, so we should stick to our list to ensure we get our questions answered. Typically, three or four questions will help drive the experience and improve the outcomes of our visit. Whether it’s obtaining a specialist referral, ordering blood work or other tests or looking for a diagnosis, helping our doctor by being prepared can improve the visit for everyone involved.

3. Take someone with you

Whether it’s because our hearing and memory aren’t as good as they used to be or because we just need moral support, we should remember that it can be important to ask for assistance. Having a spouse, family member or close friend with us in the exam room allows them to both convey additional information to the doctor as well as keep track of what the doctor may have told us. If we are seeing a doctor because something is wrong, having someone there with us can help to calm any anxiety we may feel. 

4. Take time to review medication

Every visit with our health care practitioner needs to include a review of all the current medications we are taking. Oftentimes a prescription ordered at one point in time for a certain issue does not need to be used continuously throughout our life. This is especially true for older adults. As we age, our organs age too, and certain medications may be more harmful than beneficial. We should talk to our doctor to review what is really necessary, and obtain written directions as well as information on side effects and dosing from our pharmacist as well.

5. Summarize your visit

Ask questions! Ask about the validity of the diagnosis. Ask if there are any other possibilities. What about treatments and risks? Are there lifestyle changes that will help? What is your overall prognosis? What other supports or services do you need or will benefit you or your loved ones? Take notes, be proactive, partner with your health care team and develop the tools necessary to make each visit count.

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