5 Tips for a Healthy Doctor Appointment

Estate Planning

Whether you’re the type of person who has your annual health checkup months circled on the calendar, or the type who avoids the doctor until you have a problem you can’t ignore, you probably wish going to the doctor was a better experience. That’s understandable. Many people report that doctors’ offices feel more crowded these days, and appointments are more rushed. 

The advent of patient portals and telemedicine may help you get assistance from your medical providers, but there is no substitute for the in-person, face-to-face contact you get from being in a room with your doctor. Unfortunately, most of us have had the experience of going to the doctor and realizing afterward that there was something we forgot to ask or say. To help you get the most out of your limited time with a doctor, here are some tips for a healthy doctor appointment.

Prepare for Your Appointment.

A small amount of preparation can save valuable time at your appointment, freeing up your nurse or doctor to devote more time to your questions. In a nutshell: write things down. Write down your current medications and their dosages, including any supplements or over-the-counter medications you take on a regular basis. They’re going to ask, so you might as well have that information at the ready.

You should also write down anything that you want to remember to communicate to the doctor. You might think you wouldn’t forget an issue that’s been bothering you for weeks, but important concerns can fly out of your head when the doctor says, “Anything else?” with their hand on the doorknob, poised to hurry to the next patient. 

Take Notes. 

Just as it’s easy for you to forget something you wanted to tell the doctor until it’s too late, it can also be easy to forget what the doctor has said to you, especially if they are speaking quickly or using unfamiliar terms (which, let’s face it, often happens). 

Your doctor should provide you with a printout of discharge instructions that may include your vital signs, weight, and other important information. But you may need more details. If possible, take a small notebook and a pen into the appointment room so that you can jot things down. If that feels too cumbersome, ask the doctor if you can record your conversation with her on your phone. 

Another option may be to have a family member come to the appointment with you. Not only can they serve as another set of eyes and ears to take in the doctor’s words, but your family members may have observations about your health that would be useful for your doctor to hear. 

Tell the Truth—the Whole Truth.

There are many reasons that people aren’t completely honest with their doctor. Maybe they’re ashamed about how often they drink, or how much they eat, or how little they exercise. Perhaps they are embarrassed to admit they don’t take their medication every day because they can’t afford it. Maybe they don’t want to seem like worrywarts by bringing up a symptom that has been making them anxious for weeks—it’s probably nothing, right? Sometimes, they don’t want to hear confirmation of their fears, so they stay silent about something that has been concerning them—like symptoms of dementia

But the reality is that your doctor is not a mind reader. Maybe that symptom really is nothing, but you won’t know that unless you bring it up. If it is something, telling your doctor about it now can help you get treatment before it turns into something more serious. Being honest about your health concerns helps your doctor do their job—which is keeping you healthy.

As for fudging about your eating, drinking, exercise, and other health habits, it’s understandable—most people want their doctor to think well of them. But you need to realize that your doctor is not judging you; they’re trying to help you. They can’t do that effectively unless you provide them with accurate information. 

Ask Questions.

Doctors often speak in medical jargon, forgetting that the rest of us may not understand what they are saying. Patients often accept what they’re told by a doctor, either because they don’t want to look dumb, or because they are conditioned to accept a doctor’s word as law. Those two facts can result in a lot of misunderstandings.

The bottom line is that you need to be an active participant in your own health care. To do that, you need to ask questions. If you don’t understand something the doctor is saying, ask. If an instruction doesn’t make sense to you, ask. If you can’t afford (or don’t like) a recommended treatment, be honest about that and ask if there are alternatives.

Once again, your doctor is there to help you, not judge you or shame you. They need to know when something isn’t clear to you or helpful to you. If you have trouble asking your doctor questions, that might be another good reason to have a loved one go to your appointment with you, and do the asking for you. 

Consider Getting Your Lab Work Done Before Your Appointment.

It’s common for doctors to see patients for an appointment, and then send them for lab work. The results of the tests may be available a few hours, or (more commonly) a few days later. Sometimes, the doctor’s office only calls with lab results if they’re problematic. Test results may be available online, but many seniors may not know how to access them.

Instead of waiting for your doctor to order labs at your appointment, call the office a week or so ahead of time and ask if the doctor can order routine labs early. If they say yes, the doctor will have your results in hand by the date of your appointment, and you can discuss them in person. 

For more tips for a healthy doctor appointment, or concerns about managing your affairs as you age, speak with an elder law attorney. Contact Estate Planning & Elder Law Services to schedule a consultation.

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