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Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People - Page 3

 

 

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What Can I Do?

Tips for Good Communication

A basic plan can help you communicate better with your doctor, whether you are starting with a new doctor or continuing with the doctor you've been visiting. The following tips can help you and your doctor build a partnership.

Getting Ready for Your Appointment

Be prepared: make a list of your concerns--Before going to the doctor, make a list of what you want to discuss . For example, are you having a new symptom you want to tell the doctor about? Did you want to get a flu shot or pneumonia vaccine? If you have more than a few items to discuss, put them in order so you are sure to ask about the most important ones first. Take along any information the doctor or staff may need such as insurance cards, names of your other doctors, or your medical records. Some doctors suggest you put all your medicines in a bag and bring them with you, others recommend bringing a list of medications you take.

Make sure you can see and hear as well as possible --Many older people use glasses or need aids for hearing. Remember to take your eyeglasses to the doctor's visit. If you have a hearing aid, make sure that it is working well, and wear it. Let the doctor and staff know if you have a hard time seeing or hearing. For example, you may want to say, "My hearing makes it hard to understand everything you're saying. It helps a lot when you speak slowly."

Consider bringing a family member or friend --Sometimes it is helpful to bring a family member or close friend with you. Let your family member or friend know in advance what you want from your visit. The person can remind you what you planned to discuss with the doctor if you forget, and can help you remember what the doctor said.

Plan to update the doctor--Think of any important information you need to share with your doctor about things that have happened since your last visit. If you have been treated in the emergency room, tell the doctor right away. Mention any changes you have noticed in your appetite, weight, sleep, or energy level. Also tell the doctor about any recent changes in the medication you take or the effect it has had on you.

Your doctor may ask you how your life is going. This isn't just polite talk or an attempt to be nosy. Information about what's happening in your life may be useful medically. Let the doctor know about any major changes or stresses in your life, such as a divorce or the death of a loved one. You don't have to go into detail; you may just want to say something like, "I thought it might be helpful for you to know that my sister passed away since my last visit with you," or "I had to sell my home and move in with my daughter."

Summary: Getting Ready for Your Appointment

Be prepared: make a list of concerns.

Make sure you can see and hear as well as possible.

Consider bringing a family member or friend.

Plan to update the doctor.


Sharing Information With Your Doctor

Be honest--It is tempting to say what you think the doctor wants to hear; for example, that you smoke less or eat a more balanced diet than you really do. While this is natural, it's not in your best interest. Your doctor can give you the best treatment only if you say what is really going on.

Stick to the point--Although your doctor might like to talk with you at length, each patient is given a limited amount of time. To make the best use of your time, stick to the point. Give the doctor a brief description of the symptom, when it started, how often it happens, and if it is getting worse or better.

Ask questions--Asking questions is key to getting what you want from the visit. If you don't ask questions, your doctor may think that you understand why he or she is sending you for a test or that you don't want more information. Ask questions when you don't know the meaning of a word (like aneurysm, hypertension, or infarct) or when instructions aren't clear (e.g., does taking medicine with food mean before, during, or after a meal?). You might say, "I want to make sure I understand. Could you explain that a little further?" It may help to repeat what you think the doctor means back in your own words and ask, "Is this correct?" If you are worried about cost, say so.

Share your point of view--Your doctor needs to know what's working and what's not. He or she can't read your mind, so it is important for you to share your point of view . Say if you feel rushed, worried, or uncomfortable. Try to voice your feelings in a positive way. For example, "I know you have many patients to see, but I'm really worried about this. I'd feel much better if we could talk about it a little more." If necessary, you can offer to return for a second visit to discuss your concerns.

Summary: Sharing Information With Your Doctor

Be honest.

Stick to the point.

Ask questions.

Share your point of view.


Getting Information From Your Doctor and Other Health Professionals

Take notes--It can be difficult to remember what the doctor says, so take along a note pad and pencil and write down the main points, or ask the doctor to write them down for you. If you can't write while the doctor is talking to you, make notes in the waiting room after the visit. Or, bring a tape recorder along, and (with the doctor's permission) record what is said. Recording is especially helpful if you want to share the details of the visit with others.

Get written or recorded information--Whenever possible, have the doctor or staff provide written advice and instructions. Ask if your doctor has any brochures, cassette tapes, or videotapes about your health conditions or treatments. For example, if your doctor says that your blood pressure is high, he or she may give you brochures explaining what causes high blood pressure and what you can do about it. Some doctors have videocassette recorders for viewing tapes in their offices. Ask the doctor to recommend other sources, such as public libraries, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies, which may have written or recorded materials you can use.

Remember that doctors don't know everything--Even the best doctor may be unable to answer some questions. There still is much we don't know about the human body, the aging process, and disease. Most doctors will tell you when they don't have answers. They also may help you find the information you need or refer you to a specialist. If a doctor regularly brushes off your questions or symptoms as simply part of aging, think about looking for another doctor.

Talk to other members of the health care team --Today, health care is a team effort. Other professionals, including nurses, physician assistants, pharmacists, and occupational or physical therapists, play an active role in your health care. These professionals may be able to take more time with you.

Summary: Getting Information From Your Doctor and Other Health Professionals

Take notes.

Get written or recorded information.

Remember that doctors don't know everything.

Talk to other members of the health care team.


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