General Health Article:

Plan ahead to get the most out of doctor visits

by Karen Lewis
Comprehensive Health Education Foundation

When an illness or check-up requires a visit to the doctor, most people give little thought to the appointment until they arrive at the clinic. Planning ahead, however, can help you live a healthier life by getting the most out of each visit.

The Healthy Aging Partnership - a coalition of 28 not-for-profit and public health and senior service organizations in King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties - suggests you plan in advance for your medical appointment by creating a one-page written "appointment planner" the day before your visit.

  • At the top of the page, write the date and time of the appointment and physician's name.
  • List your concerns and symptoms, starting with the most important ones.
  • If you are seeing the doctor for an ongoing condition, describe any changes that have occurred since your last visit.
  • Note the ways you are treating the symptoms or condition.
  • In priority order, write down the questions you want to ask the doctor.
  • List anything else that is happening in your life that might affect your well-being - sleep problems, alcohol use, emotional stresses, new activities, etc.

On a separate sheet, list all the medications you are taking prescriptions and non-prescription drugs like pain relievers, antihistamines, vitamins, herbal supplements, etc. Include the name of the medicine, strength (such as 325 mg.), reason you're taking it, directions for use, any special instructions, and the prescribing physician's name and phone number.

Take your planning sheet and medication list with you to the appointment and use the back of the sheet to write down your doctor's instructions for treatment, new or changed medications, lifestyle adjustments such as increased exercise or dietary restrictions, referrals to other health care providers, date and time of your next appointment, etc.

Use the planning sheet to guide the conversation with your doctor. Some people feel intimidated by speaking with medical professionals or are afraid of taking too much of their time. But you have a right to fully understand your physical condition and should be assertive to get the information you need.

To communicate well with your doctor, follow these tips:

  • Use the letters "CPR" to make sure you understand what the doctor tells you.
    1. Clarify: "Can you tell me more about that?"
    2. Paraphrase: "So, when you say that... (something technical), do you mean that... (your wording)?"
    3. Reflect Back: "I'm hearing you say I shouldn't drink alcohol when I take this drug. Is that right?"
  • Get to the point. Although you deserve to have your questions answered, time is limited. Summarize your concerns and symptoms as quickly and clearly as you can.
  • Be assertive. Repeat questions if you don't get an answer the first time. Give your opinion about what might be causing the problem and what you think might help resolve it. Ask for a second opinion if you're unsure about the doctor's diagnosis or recommended treatment. Refuse a treatment if you're uncomfortable with it.
  • Use good body language. Look at the doctor and lean forward to make sure you hear and see what's important.

For information on any issue related to living a healthy life as an older adult, call 1-844-348-KING (1-844-348-5464), HAP's toll-free information and assistance line, or visit the Web site at www.4elders.org. HAP and 1-844-348-KING are generously supported by HAP partner agencies, Puget Sound Energy and the Comprehensive Health Education Foundation.