To help get the best care for your loved one, good communication from the health care team is vital. Physicians may think everything was communicated well and understood, but the patients may not see it that way. Research has shown that 75% of doctors believed that they communicated satisfactorily with those in their care. However, only 21% of the people treated by those doctors said that their talks went well. In this post we review how to prepare for a doctor visit, including what to bring to your appointment.
Understanding Medical Conditions
When we go to the doctor’s office, the provider gathers health information and takes specific steps before a diagnosis can be made or a drug prescribed.
For example, the provider may ask questions to gather a clinical history, conduct a physical exam, order diagnostic testing, or possibly refer you to a specialist.
Do you understand what medical issues and limitations your loved one has? Are the doctor’s recommendations and the treatment plan clear?
Every person is unique, and some have multiple medical issues. It is best to discuss your medical conditions with your doctor because medical conditions can be complicated and affect people differently.
The best place to get medical information about your health conditions is from you health care provider.
With that in mind, if you choose to read online about a drug or medical condition, it is a good idea to make sure you are using reliable, trusted websites for health information. The National Institutes of Health website is an excellent place to start for trustworthy health information. A good rule of thumb is to use health websites that are sponsored by Federal Government agencies.
Well-known professional organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association https://www.alz.org/ and sites affiliated with medical schools like Mayo Clinic are also usually good sources for health information. Additionally, Drugs.com is an easy-to-read website to look up medications, and it also has a pill identifier tool.
The Medical Team
The health care team usually has multiple professionals, including the primary care doctor, specialists, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, and psychologists. Each team member is trained in their specialty, and the information provided sometimes can be overwhelming. A convenient time to communicate with the health care team is during scheduled appointments, so it is good to prepare ahead of time.
5 Tips on How to Prepare for a Doctor Visit
Being organized and prepared for health care visits can make a world of difference. When talking with the provider, providing them specific health information, and asking clear questions will make the most of your time and better understand the medical issues and treatment plan. Below we have some specific tips to help you prepare for a medical appointment.
1. Organize Medical Information
Maintaining your loved one’s health information in a specific place in the house makes it easier to find. For example, having a particular drawer, box, or file can be helpful. This way, you can keep things like important health documents, a list of medications, and medical notes together.
2. Health Information to Bring to Doctor Visits
When thinking about how to prepare for a doctor visit, make sure to bring any important medical information that the doctor is not aware of. For example:
Keep a list of medical conditions your loved one has or had, including past surgeries.
- Write down any family history, such as a family history of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.
List of Medications
Keep an updated list of all the medications taken.
- This includes both prescribed and over-the-counter medications.
- Tracking renewal dates makes it easier to identify when a renewal should be called in, or if they are on automatic renewal, you will know when they should arrive in the mail or be picked up.
- The pharmacy contact information, meaning the name, address, and telephone number, should also be written down. Having the pharmacy information is helpful if the provider wants to prescribe new medications or if renewals are needed.
- Bring the current list of medications to the medical appointment to accurately communicate what medications your loved one takes.
Keep a Journal of Health Notes, and Bring it to The Appointment
Try to have as much information as possible for the provider, for example, whether symptoms have changed, whether they are constant or variable, and if you identified anything that worsens or improves them.
- Taking quick notes at home on how your loved one is doing can help provide a more accurate description of health status to the medical provider during appointments.
- It is hard to remember things when so much time has passed between appointments.
- Writing things down also makes identifying trends easier. A trend may not be easy to identify; for example, it can be challenging to distinguish if something is getting better or worse. For example, it may be a slow progression over time, or it may toggle between improving or getting worse, and you can’t quite pinpoint the cause.
Bring Written Questions to the Appointment
Write down all the questions you have for the provider, and go through your list of questions during the appointment to ensure they were all answered.
- Your questions may include more information on a condition, the treatment plan, side effects, or new symptoms.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the prognosis of the diagnosis, and what the disease progression may look like. Are there any changes or new issues you would like to discuss?
When thinking how to prepare for a doctor visit, we have tools that can help you prepare. You can download our FREE tracker tools that help you monitor common chronic conditions:
3. Take Notes at The Appointment
When a topic is complex or emotionally charged, everyone, no matter how educated, is at risk for misunderstanding health information. Bring paper or a notebook to write on to write down important information you receive from the provider. Make sure you understand the medical condition, treatment plan, and any potential side effects. Keep asking questions until you understand.
Ask for written information on the disease or treatments. Most doctors have access to educational pamphlets or can print helpful information. It is crucial to read accurate information from credible sources, and your provider can provide reliable information to read. Research has found that it is increasingly difficult for people to separate evidence-based information, especially online, from misleading ads and gimmicks.
4. Understand Next Steps
Whether the appointment is a routine check-up or a follow-up on a diagnostic test, do not leave until you know what you should do next. Things to think about:
- What were the results of the exam, laboratory, or diagnostic tests? Do you need any more labs or testing done?
- Is there a new diagnosis, and if so, what is it, and what are the treatment options?
- If you need a specialist appointment or a follow-up appointment, make sure you know who it should be with and in what timeframe.
- For new prescriptions, understand why they were prescribed, the dose and frequency, and the side effects. What pharmacy is the prescription going to?
- Does the patient need any new medical equipment or treatment supplies?
- What types of symptoms or side effects should we be looking for?
If a caregiver is helping with your loved one, to find out more about the common responsibilities of a home caregiver read our post Caregiver Duties and Responsibilities.
Considering a second medical opinion? Read our blog post:
5. Why Good Communication is Important
Preparing for medical appointments, writing down questions you want to ask the provider, and taking notes during the appointment help you better manage your loved one’s care. It enables you to find reliable information about medical conditions, treatments, and how your loved one responds. You will feel more confident in the care your loved one is getting, and it will reduce stress because your concerns were addressed, and questions were answered. Your time with the provider is limited, and it helps make the most of the time you have with your health care team.
There may be resources available in your community that could help you or your loved one. There may be low or no-cost meal delivery programs, visiting nurses, or adult day care programs available in your community. These programs can be beneficial to your loved one and alleviate some of your stress. For an in-depth list of community resources, read our post Senior Resources- Guide for Caregivers.
Additional Reliable Websites for Health Information
The best place to get medical information about your health conditions is to ask your provider. However, if you are going to look for medical information online, it is best to use reliable sources. Some websites are listed below.
National Library of Medicine
Tips on how to prepare for a doctor visit include:
- Good communication with providers helps one more easily manage medical conditions. Preparation also enables you to get the most out of each appointment.
- Keep an updated list of medications and bring it to appointments. Make sure to identify any medications that need renewal.
- If you have some, write down your list of concerns, such as new or ongoing symptoms, and include details such as their symptoms, when they start, and what makes them better or worse. Bring your notes to the appointment so you can give the provider a good picture of your loved one’s condition.
- Write down questions you have for the provider, and make sure to ask them all during the visit.
- Take notes during the appointment. Ask the provider for written materials and legitimate websites to review the information later.
- Ensure you understand what you should do next. Are medications ready for pickup at the pharmacy, do you need to see a specialist, or is there a different treatment plan?