Productive doctor visits don’t just happen, you have to prepare for them. A typical doctor’s visit lasts about 15 minutes so every minute counts.
The National Institutes of Health’s Senior Health website has an excellent list of suggestions for how to make the most of a doctor visit.
First, make a list of your symptoms. Write them down. Most of us tend to focus on the most obvious symptom (I have a headache that won’t go away, for instance) but rarely is the most obvious symptom the only symptom. Making a list will help you remember what you need to tell the doctor and give you time to think about any secondary symptoms.
Symptoms can be physical, such as pain, fever, a lump or problems sleeping, or they can be emotional, such as persistent sadness or atypical confusion or memory lapses.
Your doctor will want to know when you first noticed the symptoms, what time of day it starts and how long it lasts, how often it happens and anything you’ve tried that makes it better or worse. If the symptom prevents you from doing anything you normally do, make note of that as well.
Make a list of your medications and bring the list with you to the appointment. Along with medication dosage, make sure to note how often you take the medication and if there are any side effects.
Your list should include prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, supplements, herbal remedies, laxatives, eye drops and any other substance you are taking for medicinal purposes.
Make sure you provide your doctor with a thorough and comprehensive list of medications because it’s possible that a medication that works well in combination with certain drugs will interfere with other drugs or cause unintended or harmful side effects.
Be ready to provide a concise description of on-going health concerns that are unique to you. For instance, many older adults make use of assistive devices that could affect medical decisions and should be included in a discussion of treatment options. If you use a cane, walker, scooter or a stair lift, make sure to mention it. Likewise, it could be important for your physician to know if you have trouble with hearing or balance.
Have you had any significant life changes? Again, be ready to mention any major upheavals since your last visit. A routine office visit with your primary care physician isn’t the time to go into details, but it’s important to let him or her know if you’ve suffered a major loss or setback.
Make a note of any new health-related developments, such as recent trips to the emergency room, surgeries or diagnostic tests.
Bring the contact information for your insurance company and any of the other doctors you are seeing for specific conditions.
Fifteen minutes is not a lot of time, but if you arrive at your doctor’s appointment prepared with pertinent information you and your physician will be well on the way to ensuring that your visit is efficient, effective and productive.