Open, strong, and specific communication with a doctor is the foundation for productive patient care. Without an honest list of symptoms or feedback concerning medications and therapies, doctors are unaware of the best ways to help solve health problems. This leads to less-than-efficient prescriptions, missed diagnoses, and more discomfort all around.
For seniors, going to the doctor can be an especially stressful time. The complicated nature of getting to a doctor, paying for care, and receiving care is tied to all manner of emotional topics, including mobility, general aging, cognitive function, and self-respect. Most people, regardless of age, feel tension when visiting the doctor. Becoming better communicators is the best way to avoid discomfort, dangerous or uncomfortable medication interactions, and all manner of issues.
Are you or the senior you care for feeling tense or anxious when facing doctor visits? Here are five ways to communicate clearly and effectively with health care provider(s).
- Make a list of medications, dosages, and how they are taken (with water, in the morning, etc.). Take this to every doctor's visit, especially when visiting a new doctor or a specialist for a new medication. This keeps all doctors apprised of what medications are being taken, which helps them prescribe (or not prescribe) medicine and therapy. It might be helpful to bring a pad of paper and a pen, since changes to medications or when or how to take them differently should be noted.
- Come with a specific agenda, and stick to it. If a patient visits a doctor to get a physical and discuss options for treating diabetes or arthritis, a written plan of what to ask helps focus the discussion and complete it. Feeling overwhelmed by a doctor who rushes in and out of an appointment (a reality in many places, due to a lack of doctors per capita in the United States) is common, but compelling the doctor to sit and answer a list of questions means some answers will be forthcoming. There is nothing wrong with asking for a longer appointment time if discussing treatment options may take some time.
- Mention recent changes. Has a cardiologist noticed blood pressure lowering significantly as a result of medication? Was there a fall and a visit to an emergency room? Has there been any trouble sleeping, or a significant weight gain? All of these changes are important to a primary care doctor, in particular. Knowing all recent symptoms or changes in patient lifestyle helps doctors evaluate hearing loss, dementia, heart conditions, vision loss, and more. This also impacts medications and therapies--weight gain or loss changes the dosage, which changes how effective the medication is. Doctors must know current health status in order to make accurate diagnoses and suggestions.
- Bring resources. For example, glasses and a hearing aid, if needed, should not be left behind. If a patient is experiencing problems with vision or hearing, that is something a doctor needs to know; and it should be communicated as early in the visit as possible. Reading medical documents or listening to medication instructions without proper hearing and vision could result in missing important information. This could even be dangerous.
- Doctors accept that it is normal for patients to bring a friend, family member, or caregiver along on a doctor's visit for support. This person may just be there to make sure the patient doesn't feel alone, or may be needed to provide information about symptoms or life changes. They can also help the patient remember everything the doctor says. Caregivers may have noticed signs or symptoms that the patient has forgotten or is unaware of. Therefore, going it alone is not a necessity.
- Be honest. Doctors work best with all of the facts, and they don't ask just to be nosey--they are asking for a reason. A topic many seniors avoid is sexual activity, but doctors need to know if a person is sexually active or wants to be so because it impacts physical and emotional health. If a senior wants to take up running marathons, lessen medicine dosage, or travel to another country, the doctor needs to evaluate physical and mental health honestly in order to assess risks. This is where caregivers, friends, and family are also helpful; they keep a senior honest. An elderly person may not want to admit to a fall, or to some memory or hearing loss, but a good caregiver will be honest with the doctor about the senior's daily life.
Using these tips can make a visit to the doctor's more informative, pleasant, and productive.
Jacobs, Barry J. (October 15, 2013). Who's in Charge at the Doctor's Visit? Caregiving. AARP. Available at http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/info-10-2013/caregiving-doctor-visit-jacobs.html. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
National Institute on Aging. Talking with Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People. National Institutes of Health. Available at https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/talking-your-doctor/opening-thoughts-why-does-it-matter. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
National Institute On Aging. Talking with your doctor-3 tips for seniors that can help! National Institutes of Health. Available at http://content.govdelivery.com/accounts/USNIHNIA/bulletins/104de8b. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
Northwestern Mutual Voice Team. (October 29, 2014). Role Reversal: Taking Parents to the Doctor. Forbes Investing. Available at http://www.forbes.com/sites/northwesternmutual/2014/10/29/role-reversal-taking-aging-parents-to-the-doctor/#3abde4447069. Retrieved February 5, 2016.
Senior Citizens Bureau. Talking to Your Doctor. Available at http://www.seniorcitizensbureau.com/talking-to-your-doctor/. Retrieved February 5, 2016.