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Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How to Make the Most of Your Doctor's Visit

I manage a large health clinic that treats thousands of patients each year. We have found that the patients who come in prepared are much more satisfied with the care they receive. Can you write a column educating patients on how to prepare for doctor's appointments?

Studies have shown that patients who provide important health information and prepare for doctor's appointments tend to receive better care than patients who do not. Here are some simple things we can all do to help maximize the benefits of our next visit to the doctor.

Before Appointments

Gathering your health information and getting organized before your appointment are key to ensuring a productive meeting with your doctor. This is especially important if you are seeing multiple doctors or meeting with a new physician. Here is what you need to do before your next appointment:

1. Get your test results: If you are seeing a new doctor, make sure he or she has copies of your latest X-ray, MRI or any other tests or recent lab results, including reports from other doctors. In most cases, you will need to do the leg work yourself. This may be as simple as a phone call to your previous doctor or you may need to pick it up yourself.

2. List your medications: Make a list of all the medications and dosages you are taking, including prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs and herbal supplements. Alternatively, put all your pill bottles in a bag and take them with you to your appointment.

3. Know your health history: Being able to talk to your doctor about any previous medical problems and procedures, even if they are not the reason you are going to the doctor this time, can make an office visit much more efficient. If your health history is complicated, it would be best to write it down. Genetics matter too, so knowing your family's health history may also be helpful.

4. Prepare a list of questions: Make a written list of the top three or four issues you want to discuss with your doctor. Since most appointments last around 15 to 20 minutes, this can help you stay on track and ensure you address your most pressing concerns first. If you are in for a diagnostic visit, you should prepare a detailed description of your symptoms.

During Appointments

When you meet with your doctor, it is important to speak up and get to the point. Right away, concisely explain why you are there. Do not wait to be asked. Be direct, honest and specific when recounting your symptoms or expressing your concerns. Many patients are reluctant or embarrassed to talk about their symptoms, which makes the doctor's job much more difficult. You may want to ask if you are able to bring along a family member or friend to your appointment, rules may vary with your doctor's office. They can help you ask questions, listen to what the doctor is telling you and give you support.

Consider taking notes or asking the doctor if you can record the session for later review. If you do not understand what the doctor is telling you, ask him or her to explain it in simple terms so you can understand. If you run out of time and do not get your questions answered, ask if you can follow up by phone or email, make another appointment or seek help from a nurse.

For more information, the National Institute on Aging offers an excellent booklet called "Talking with Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People" that can help you prepare for an appointment and become a more informed patient. To get a free copy mailed to you, call 800-222-2225 or visit

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published December 25, 2020

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