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Visiting the Doctor

Today, the average doctor visit is measured in minutes, and it is important to make the most of it. You may also need to help elders understand that the doctor-patient relationship today has changed -- patients must take more control of and responsibility for their own health care.

Before the appointment, write down questions or issues you both would like to discuss. You should also note any changes in an elder's health and abilities since the last visit, and take along a list of all medications and dosages (or the medications themselves). The PCP may not be fully aware of medications prescribed by other specialists, and vice versa. Drug interactions can cause many disturbing symptoms and even illness. Include natural and holistic remedies and over-the-counter drugs, since these can cause interactions as well. For more tips, see the Caring for Your Parents handout At the Doctor's (PDF).

At the doctor's office, ask to be present during the initial consultation, the examination (if possible), and afterwards, when the doctor returns to discuss findings and treatments. Both you and the elder should ask questions until you understand all the information the doctor is giving you. There is no such thing as a wrong or stupid question! Take careful notes, and ask who and when you can call if you have additional questions.

Additional Resources

  • The Department of Health and Human Services' Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has prepared a list of questions, "Be Prepared for Medical Appointments," that you can print and take with you to the doctor. On the Web site, look for AHRQ Publication No. 07-0039-A, May 2007.
  • Medline Plus, a Web site of the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, contains a section called "Talking with Your Doctor" and provides additional resources and links in both English and Spanish.
  • The Senior Health Web site of the National Institute of Health has an excellent resource called "Talking with Your Doctor" that explains how to prepare for a medical visit and how to understand the more technical parts, such as diagnoses and follow-up lab tests.

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