May 23, 2018
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Being prepared can help make doctor visits productive

By Carol Higgins Taylor

Think about the last time you visited your health care provider. Did you understand everything that was talked about? Did you leave the office confident that you had a solid plan for better health?

Medical appointments are short, and before you know it, you’re out the door. And sometimes there is a lot of information to take in, which is why it is very important to be prepared for the visit.

While some seniors are adept at voicing concerns, others may be uncomfortable speaking up or they forget specific questions once they’re ushered into the exam room.

In the days of specialty medicine, numerous medications and shortened appointments, patients need to be proactive. A doctor’s appointment averages under 15 minutes, but there are some things you can do to make those precious minutes count — and partnership is the word of the day to describe a solid patient-doctor relationship.

Patients need to take active roles in their care plans, with the responsibility of good communication resting with both parties.

Here are some tips for getting the most out of your medical appointment:

• Prepare for your appointment by making a list of your concerns and questions. This is the best way to maximize the limited and valuable time you have with your health care provider, and ensures you will remember everything you want to discuss. It is best to think in terms of bullet points to stay focused. Some providers may have a short attention span, and if you start to ramble — as I am prone to do — you might lose them.

• Keep a daily or weekly diary of how you are feeling. Patterns may develop over time that could be beneficial to your provider, such as that you feel extremely tired after eating or your hip hurts when it rains. Before the appointment, you can pare down the information to give your provider at your visit.

• Take notes while your health care provider is talking to you. Don’t rely on your memory. If you can’t write and listen simultaneously, bring a friend along to take notes or ask if you can tape record the visit. Small, handheld recorders are inexpensive and readily available.

• Schedule an appointment for first thing in the morning or right after lunch, when the medical office is less likely to be backed up.

• Bag up all your medications and take them with you so that your provider has a visual on what you are taking. While the information may be online, there is nothing like a bag full of pill bottles to get attention. Your health care provider also can write a prescription on the spot for any that need to be refilled. It’s faster and easier than trying to call in a renewal. If you have medication that requires refrigeration, don’t bring that along, but write the name and dose on a recipe card to put in your bag.

• If you are scheduled for a routine visit, such as a blood pressure check, but you have a certain issue to discuss, don’t wait until you arrive at the office. Call ahead and request a longer appointment with the health care provider if possible, or set another appointment for that particular concern. Above all, be honest about any problems you are having, because your treatment depends on the information you provide the doctor. Also, don’t be afraid to speak up if there is something you don’t understand.

If you’ve done all you can do to be actively involved in your care and still are not getting the help you need, don’t be afraid to make a change, because the most important thing is your health.

Carol Higgins Taylor is director of communications at Eastern Area Agency on Aging. Email Higgins Taylor at For information on EAAA, call 941-2865, toll-free 800-432-7812, email or visit TTY 992-0150.

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