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Questions to ask at a doctor’s appointment so you walk away confident

Facing the potentially lengthy wait … being continually poked and prodded … being talked at, rather than being talked to … there are many valid reasons why many people dislike or even fear going to see their doctor for any medical concern. This doesn’t have to be the case. Making the most of doctor’s appointments can give you more confidence when addressing your parents’ health issues. In her new book, What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear, Dr. Danielle Ofri recommends how family caregivers and seniors can turn things around and have a positive visit — rather than a negative one — with the doctor. Doing so involves making smart choices, understanding and being prepared. Tips for Preparing for a Doctor’s Visit As a first step in planning care for a parent, choose who you will see. There is a great deal of difference between a doctor who can treat Mom or Dad’s nagging cough and a doctor who specializes in more complicated surgeries. Family caregivers need to ensure that the doctor has the necessary experience. “If you’re looking for a specialist to do a particular procedure, look for a physician who does lots of them. When it comes to complex medical procedures, more is better,” explains Ofri. “For non-procedure-based specialties, there are fewer concrete things to measure.” In the latter case, family caregivers are recommended to find “a doctor who takes his or her time talking with you, engages his or her patients in decision-making, and [is someone] who can get in touch with you on the phone or through secure email.” The next step is to book an appointment. Ofri recommends looking at earlier in the week and earlier in the day to avoid nasty delays. “If you can schedule yourself to be the first or second visit of the day, you’ll have a better chance of being seen at your scheduled time.” If you can’t get a booking at your convenience, “look for a doctor who has evening or weekend hours.” While you’re waiting for your appointment, check with your insurance company to see if or how much of the cost they are prepared to cover. “If you can get a handle on technicalities of your health care plan like co-pays, deductibles, and coinsurance and things like preventative care, mental health, physical therapy, drug rehab, and out-of-network referrals”, this will be ideal. Advance time can also be used to prepare. Ofri urges family caregivers to make a realistic list of concerns (doctors often see many patients and have limited time for each, so keep your list brief - just two or three issues). Ofri also suggests gathering supplies. This will include any current medications (and their bottles), related test results and your insurance card. Learning how to have conversations about care with parents is also important to make sure that any concerns they have about their health are addressed during the appointment. How to Have a Successful Doctor’s Appointment Upon arrival at your doctor’s office for your scheduled appointment, check in with the front desk. Be prepared for a wait and be flexible. As Ofri says, “there’s not much you can do to make the process go faster so pull out your crossword puzzle or that book that you keep meaning to get to and see if you can interpret this waiting time as ‘found time’ to do something you don’t normally have time for.” The front desk nurse will, in due course, call your name and lead you to an examination room. There may be a few minutes delay here as well, as the doctor finishes up with a prior patient. When your doctor arrives, “set your agenda, but listen to the doctor’s, focus on the doctor-patient conversation, understand the multitasking that your doctor does, be ready to change into a medical gown for a physical exam, revisit any issues that linger or require clarification, and don’t leave until you know the plan.” This plan can be further testing, a referral to a specialist or a medication prescription (which can be filled by your neighborhood pharmacy). Before the pharmacist fills the order, ask if the medication cost is covered by your insurance. If not, Ofri suggests to, “change the prescription to a similar medication that is covered.” If this is a new prescription, you can also ask the pharmacist about possible side effects or reactions to another medication currently being taken. How to Avoid Future Health Issues You’re almost done! Family caregivers can now return their parent home. Take a few moments to review your doctor’s visit. Was this time valuable? Have you had all your questions answered? Do you know what the plan is going forward? If your aging mother or father needs more complex care, it is your right to seek out a secondary medical opinion. A family caregiver can also choose to cease visiting a certain family doctor for any reason. For best results, “you’ll want to stick to the plan that you and your doctor agreed upon”. Unless your loved one is suffering from a severe reaction, make sure to empty that bottle and consume all the medication prescribed. If your loved one does need to spend an extended amount of time in the hospital for any reason, make sure you utilize these tips for planning a hospital stay to make the process as smooth as possible.

About the Author(s)

As a former co-caregiver, Rick Lauber helped and supported his own aging parents. His mother had Parkinson's and Leukemia and his father had Alzheimer's. Rick learned that caregiving is challenging and used writing to personally cope.

His stories became two books, Caregiver's Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver's Guide.

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