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Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People-Page 4



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Is the doctor's office convenient?

• Where is the doctor's office located?

• Is parking available nearby? What is the cost?

• Is the office on a bus or subway line?

• Does the building have an elevator? Ramps for a wheelchair? Adequate lighting?

Where Do I Begin?

Getting Started With a New Doctor

Your first meeting is the best time to begin communicating positively with your new doctor. When you see the doctor and office staff, introduce yourself and let them know how you like to be addressed. The first few appointments with your new doctor also are the best times to:

Learn the basics of the office--Ask the office staff how the office runs. Learn what days are busiest and what times are best to call. Ask what to do if there is an emergency, or when the office is closed.

Share your medical history--Tell the doctor about your illnesses or operations, medical conditions that run in your family, and other doctors you see. You may want to ask for a copy of the medical history form before your visit so you have all the time and information you need to complete it. Your new doctor may ask you to sign a medical release form to get copies of your medical records from doctors you have had before. Be prepared to give the new doctor your former doctors' names and addresses, especially if they are in a different city.

Give information about your medications--Many people take several medicines. It is possible for medicines to interact, causing unpleasant and sometimes dangerous side effects. Your doctor needs to know about ALL of the medicines you take, including over-the-counter (non-prescription) drugs, so bring everything with you to your fist visit, including eye drops, vitamins, and laxatives. Tell the doctor how often you take each and describe any drug allergies or reactions you have had and which medications work best for you. Be sure your doctor has the phone number of your regular drug store.

Tell the doctor about your habits--To provide the best care, your doctor must understand you as a person and know what your life is like. The doctor may ask about where you live, what you eat, how you sleep, what you do each day, what activities you enjoy, your sex life, and if you smoke or drink. Be open and honest with your doctor. It will help him or her to understand your medical conditions fully and recommend the best treatment choices for you.

Summary: Getting Started With a New Doctor

Learn the basics of how the office runs.

Share your medical history.

Give information about your medications.

Tell the doctor about your habits.

Questions to ask your doctor about prevention:

Should I get a flue shot, pneumonia shot, and/or other immunizations?

How often should I have a breast or prostate examination?

Would changing my diet or exercise habits help me avoid specific diseases?


A symptom is evidence of a disease or disorder in the body. Examples of symptoms include pain, fever, unexplained weight loss or gain, or disrupted sleep.

What Should I Say?

Talking About Your Health

Talking about your health means sharing information about how you feel both physically and emotionally. Knowing how to describe your symptoms, discuss treatments, and talk with specialists will help you become a partner in your health care. Here are some issues that may be important to you when you talk with your doctor.

Preventing Disease and Disability

Until recently, preventing disease in older people received little attention. But things are changing. It's never too late to stop smoking, improve your diet, or start exercising. Getting regular checkups and seeing other health professionals such as dentists and eye specialists help promote good health. Even people who have chronic diseases, like arthritis or diabetes, can prevent further disability and,in some cases, control the progress of the disease.

If a certain disease or health condition runs in your family, ask your doctor if there are steps you can take to help prevent it. If you have a chronic condition, ask how you can manage it and if there are things you can do to prevent it from getting worse. If you want to discuss health and disease prevention with your doctor, say so when you make your next appointment. This lets the doctor plan to spend more time with you as well as to prepare for the discussion.

Sharing Any Symptoms

It is very important for you to be clear and concise when describing your symptoms. Your description helps the doctor identify the problem. A physical exam and medical tests provide valuable information, but it is your symptoms that point the doctor in the right direction.

Tell the doctor when your symptoms started, what time of day they happen, how long they last (seconds? days?), or how often they occur, if they seem to be getting worse or better, and if they keep you from going out or doing your usual activities. Take the time to make some notes about your symptoms before you call or visit the doctor. Concern about your symptoms is not a sign of weakness. It is not necessarily complaining to be honest about what you are experiencing.

Learning More About Medical Tests

Sometimes doctors need to do blood tests, x-rays, or other procedures to find out what is wrong or to learn more about your medical condition. Some tests, such as Pap smears, mammograms, glaucoma tests, and screening for prostate and colorectal cancer, are done on a regular basis to check for hidden medical problems.

Before having a medical test, ask your doctor to explain why it is important and what it will cost, and, if possible, to give you something to read about it. Ask how long the results of the test will take to come in.

When the results are ready, make sure the doctor tells you what they are and explains what they mean. You may want to ask your doctor for a written copy of the test results. If the test is done by a specialist, ask to have the results sent to your primary doctor.

Questions to ask yourself
about your symptoms:

• What exactly are my symptoms?

• Are the symptoms constant? If not, when do I experience them?

• Do the symptoms affect my daily activities? Which ones? How?


Questions to ask your doctor about medical tests:

• What will we know after the test?

• How will I find out the results? How long will it take to get the results?

• What steps does the test involve? How should I get ready?

• Are there any dangers or side effects?

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