What information should I bring with me to the doctor visit?

Bring insurance cards, names and phone numbers of your other doctors, and the phone number of the pharmacy you use. Also, bring your medical records if your doctor does not have them.

What should I include in my visit plan that I prepare before going to the doctor?

Creating a plan before you go to the doctor can help you make the most of your visit. You should include in this visit plan a complete list of your symptoms, medications, habits, any assistive devices you may use, and life changes. Watch this 3 minute video: “Making a List

Why is it important to communicate well with my doctor?

As you get older, it becomes even more important to talk often and comfortably with your doctor. One reason is you may have more health problems and treatments to discuss. It’s also because your health can have a big impact on other parts of your life, and that needs to be talked about too.

What can I do to make the best use of my time with my doctor?

Rank your list of concerns and questions by importance and talk about the most important items first. If you put off talking about the items that are bothering you most, you may run out of time to talk about them during the visit. Afterwards, if you have time, you can talk about the other things on your list.

Another way to make the best use of your time is to use your visit plan to stick to the point. Your doctor may not have a lot of time to talk with you. Therefore, it is important for you to stay focused on what you planned to talk about. For example, give a brief summary of what is bothering you most, when the symptom started, how often it happens, and if it is getting worse or better.

What should I include when I describe a symptom to my doctor?

Your description should include what the symptom is, when it started, when it occurs, how long it lasts, how often you have it, and anything that makes it worse or better. Try to be as specific as possible.

What should I do if I do not understand something my doctor says?

Ask questions. Talking with your doctor is not always easy. Sometimes what he or she says about your health may not make sense. If something seems unclear, ask your doctor to explain what he or she means. You might say, “I want to make sure I understand. Could you explain a little more?” or “I didn’t understand that word. What does it mean?” You may also find it helpful to repeat back to your doctor what he or she says using your own words and ask if you are correct.

What types of medications does my doctor need to know that I am taking?

Your doctor needs to know about all the medications you take, even if you do not take them all the time. These medications include prescription drugs, over-the-counter (non-prescription) drugs, vitamins, herbal remedies or supplements, laxatives, and eye drops. Make sure your doctor knows how much you take and how often you take each medication.

What kind of habits should I tell my doctor about?

Tell your doctor about where you live, if you drive or how you get around, your eating habits, how you sleep, what you do each day, what activities you enjoy, what your sex life is like, and if you smoke or drink alcohol.

Should I mention any assistive devices I may be using?

Yes. Be sure to let your doctor know if you use any assistive devices to help you in your daily activities. Assistive devices can help you see, hear, stand, reach, balance, grasp items, go up or down stairs, and move around. Devices used by older adults may include canes, walkers, scooters, hearing aids, reachers, grab bars, and stair lifts.

What kind of life changes should I tell my doctor about?

Tell your doctor if something has happened in your life that has caused you stress or sadness, because these things can have an effect on your health. Examples of life changes include divorce, death of a loved one, or changing where you live.

Besides my health problems, what are some other topics that I may want to talk to my doctor about?

It is important for you to discuss sensitive topics with your doctor because they may affect your health. These personal matters may include problems with alcohol, fear of falling, problems driving, depression, sexuality, sexually transmitted disease prevention, incontinence, memory loss, family problems, and unhappiness with your doctor.

As I age, are there things I can do to prevent disease?

Yes. Talk to your doctor about things you can do to prevent disease and improve your health. It is never too late to stop smoking, eat healthier foods, or start exercising.

What are ways I can remember what my doctor says during a visit?

No matter what your age, it is easy to forget a lot of what your doctor says. Also, sometimes what your doctor says may be hard to understand. As your doctor gives you information about your health, it is a good idea to make sure that you understand it and that you will be able to remember it. Here are some tips to help you remember information.

  • Take notes. Taking notes during your doctor visit can help you remember what you and your doctor talk about. Take along a notepad and pen or pencil, and write down your doctor’s main points or ask your doctor to write them down for you. If you cannot write while the doctor is talking to you, make notes in the waiting room after your visit. Some doctors may allow you to audiotape record your visit if you do not want to, or cannot, take notes.
  • Ask for clarification. Always ask your doctor about anything he or she says that seems unclear. You might say, “I want to make sure I understand. Could you explain a little more?” or “I didn’t understand that word. What does it mean?” You may also find it helpful to repeat back to your doctor what he or she says using your own words and ask if you are correct.
  • Request written or visual aids. Ask if your doctor has any written information or DVDs, CDs, cassettes, or videotapes about your health condition and/or treatment. Also, ask your doctor about other places where you can get more information to help you understand, such as websites or health organizations.
  • Speak with other members of the health care team. Sometimes your doctor may want you to talk to another member of the health care team about your condition. These people may be better able to explain the health problem and help you make decisions about what to do about it. These people, such as nurses and physician assistants, may also be able to spend more time with you than your doctor.

What is the benefit of bringing a family member or friend to my doctor visit?

Sometimes it can be helpful to bring a family member or friend to your doctor visit. The person can help remind you about what you want to talk about with your doctor and can take notes to help you remember what your doctor says. If you bring someone to your doctor visit, you can still have time alone with your doctor to talk about personal matters.

If, after my doctor visit, I have questions about medications prescribed for me, is there someone I can talk to besides my doctor?

Yes. Your pharmacist can help answer your questions about medications, including what the label on the medicine bottle means and what are common side effects. It may be helpful to get all your prescriptions from the same pharmacy so they have a complete record of what you are taking. Your pharmacist can check to see if there are any medications that should not be taken together.

Why might a doctor want to do a medical test?

There are different reasons why you may need a medical test. Sometimes a doctor does a test, such as taking your blood or giving you an x-ray, to find out what is wrong or to learn more about your health condition. Some tests, like cancer screenings, are done regularly to check for hidden medical problems.

What questions should I ask before having a medical test?

Before you have a medical test, ask your doctor to explain why you need it, what it will show about your health, what it will cost, and if your health insurance will cover the cost. Also, ask what you need to do to get ready for the test. For example, you may not be able to eat before the medical test.

Other questions to ask your doctor about medical tests:

  • How is the test done? What steps does the medical test involve?
  • Are there any dangers or side effects?
  • How will I find out the results of my test? How long will it take to get the results?
  • What will we know after the test?

What questions should I ask my doctor once I am given a diagnosis?

Your diagnosis is what your doctor thinks is your health problem.

Understanding your diagnosis, or health problem, can help you to make decisions about what you would like to do about it. Also, if you know how the health problem may affect your life and activities and what may happen if the condition gets worse, you may be better prepared to deal with the problem.

Here are some questions you may want to ask your doctor about your health problem.

  • What is the name of the condition? How do you spell it?
  • Why do you think I have this health problem? What may have caused it?
  • How long may this problem last? Will it be forever?

More questions you may want to ask your doctor about your health problem:

  • How will this problem affect me? Will I need to change some of my activities?
  • Are there long-term effects of this problem?
  • Can my health problem be cured? How can it be treated or managed, made better?
  • How can I learn more about my condition?

What should I know before I make a decision about a medical treatment?

Ask your doctor about the pros and cons of each treatment option. Find out what will be the benefits and risks to you and how it will impact your overall health. You may also want to find out how long the treatment would take and how likely it is to work for you.

When deciding on a treatment, also think about how it will impact your overall life. For instance, if you are choosing between a few options, think about how each treatment’s side effects may have an impact on daily activities that mean a lot to you. You may decide on an option that changes your life the least.

If you do not like any of the options, ask if there are other choices. If cost is a concern, ask the doctor if there is a less expensive option or if your insurance will pay for it. It is also important to ask how soon treatment should start. The doctor can work with you to make a treatment plan that meets your needs.

Why might I want to get a second opinion before deciding to have surgery?

Hearing the views of two different doctors may help you decide what is best for you. Also, your insurance plan may require you to talk to another doctor before having surgery.

If I have to have surgery, what questions should I ask the surgeon?

In some cases, surgery may be the best treatment option for your health problem. If so, your doctor will refer you to a surgeon who can talk to you about the operation. Understanding what the surgery involves will help you get ready for it and can also help you decide if you want to try a different treatment option.

Here are some questions to ask your surgeon.

  • What will be done during the operation?
  • What are the risks? What problems may occur because of this surgery?
  • What is the success rate of the surgery? How often does the surgery work?
  • What kind of anesthesia will I have? Are there any risks for older people?
  • Will I have to stay in the hospital overnight?

It is also important to know what you can expect after the surgery. Ask your surgeon about any kind of pain or discomfort you may have after the surgery. Also, find out how long it will take to recover and get back to your normal routine. It is also useful to know if there is anything special you will need to do to recover.

How might an appointment with a specialist be different from a visit with my regular doctor?

A visit with a specialist may be shorter than an appointment with your doctor. Often specialists already know your symptoms and medical test results. A visit with a specialist may be more specific to a single health problem versus your general health issues.

If you do not understand something that the specialist tells you, ask questions. For example, you might say, “I do not know very much about the condition you said I have. Could you explain what it is and how it might affect me?” Also, have the specialist explain your treatment options.

It may be helpful to ask for written materials to read. You can call your primary doctor for an explanation of anything you did not understand or that does not make sense to you after your visit with the specialist.

Ask the specialist to send information about your diagnosis or treatment to your primary doctor. This will help your primary doctor keep track of your medical care. Also, during your next doctor visit, you should tell your doctor how well the treatment or medications prescribed by the specialist are working.

What health information should I bring with me on a visit to the emergency room?

A visit to the ER can be especially stressful. It may go more smoothly if you can take along

  • your health insurance card or policy number
  • a list of your medications
  • a list of your health problems
  • the names and phone numbers of your doctor and one or two family members or friends.

Some people find it helpful to have this information with them at all times.

You may have to wait for a long time in the ER to see a doctor. Taking something to read and a sweater in case the room is cold can make the wait more comfortable.

What questions should I ask the emergency room staff?

During your ER visit, ask questions if you do not know what a doctor or other medical staff is doing. Make sure you understand what the ER doctor tells you about your health, or ask him or her to write it down.

Also, make sure you know if there is anything special you need to do after you go home from the ER. For example, if you have a bandage, find out when and how to change it. Tell your regular doctor(s) as soon as possible about your visit to the ER.

Here are some questions you may want to ask medical staff in the ER.

  • What medical tests are being done and why?
  • Will you talk to my regular doctor about my care?
  • Do I need to make special doctor visits for my health problem?
  • Can you write down what I need to do to care for my health problem?
  • Is there someone who speaks my language and can explain what I need to do for my health problem? (If you speak a different language.)

How can I let my doctor, family members, and friends know my decisions about my care should I become very ill?

You can record your decisions about your future health care in documents called advance directives, such as a living will or healthcare proxy. A living will includes your decisions about medical treatment at the end of life. A healthcare proxy allows you to pick a person or persons who you trust to make health decisions for you if you cannot. A healthcare proxy also states what care you want if you become too sick to talk about it. Often, your doctor can help you think about advance directives.