I manage a large health clinic that treats thousands of patients each year. We have found that patients who come in prepared are much more satisfied with the care they receive. Can you write a column educating patients on how to prepare for doctor's appointments?
Studies have shown that patients who help their doctors by providing important health information and preparing themselves for appointments tend to receive better care than patients who do not. Here are some simple things we can all do to help maximize the benefits of our next visit to the doctor.
Gather your health information and get organized before your appointment to ensure a productive meeting with your doctor. This is especially important if you are seeing multiple doctors or are meeting with a new physician. Here is what you need to do before your next appointment:
- Get your test results: If you are 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 recent lab results, including reports from other doctors. In most cases, you will need to do the leg work. This may be as simple as a phone call to your previous doctor or you may need to go pick it up.
- List your medications: Make a list of all the medications you are taking, including prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements, along with the dosages. Alternatively, put all your pill bottles in a bag and take them with you to your appointment.
- Know your health history: Talk to your doctor about any previous medical problems and procedures, even if they are not the reason you are going to the doctor this time. This can make an office visit much more efficient. Write it down if it is complicated. Genetics matter too, so knowing your family's health history may 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 approximately 15 to 20 minutes, this can help you stay on track and ensure you address your most pressing concerns first. If you are in for a diagnostic visit, you should prepare a detailed description of your symptoms.
When you meet with your doctor, it is important to speak up and get to the point. Right away, concisely explain why you are there. Do not wait to be asked. Be direct, honest and 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 much more difficult. It is 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.
Consider taking notes or asking the doctor if you can record the session for later review. If you do not understand what the doctor is telling you, ask him or her to explain it in simpler terms so you can understand. If you run out of time and do not get your questions answered, ask if you can follow up by phone or email, make another appointment or seek help from a 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
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.