As we get older, it seems, at least for many of us, that our trips to the doctor become more and more frequent. To make things worse, our trips are no longer one-stop shops. There’s a different doctor to see for every medical ailment affecting our bodies. This means, of course, that we go to the cardiologist on one day, the neurologist on another, the eye specialist on a different day—you get the picture—and in no time we find we are spending most of our time lining up transportation and then sitting in waiting and exam rooms. The doctor pops in, and before we even know what’s happened, he or she is running out, saying, “I’ll see you again in three months.” And after he or she is gone, you realize you didn’t even get a chance to ask all of your questions!
Many adult children in the sandwich generation accompany their elderly parents on hospital visits. Whether going for yourself or with your elderly parents, here are some ways to ensure that you make the most of both your and the physician’s time and energy:
- You will be more prepared if you write down your questions as you think of them before seeing the doctor. Keep a running list of them on your refrigerator or somewhere else that is handy for you. When you go to the doctor, take the list with you. All of your questions will be right there so you won’t have to rely on your memory, which is especially important if the doctor is in a hurry and wants to rush out the door.
- It’s a good idea to take someone with you. There are several reasons for this. Maybe your hearing isn’t so good or your memory isn’t what it used to be. Having another person with you lessens the chance that you may not hear or understand everything the physician is telling you. Also, if you receive bad news of any kind, you’ll have someone with you to support you. And, most importantly, you can go out for lunch together afterwards!
- Be honest and thorough with your doctor in reporting your symptoms, concerns, or problems. If you are not willing to tell your physician everything, he or she may not be able to treat you successfully. Leaving out information alters the conclusions that a professional can make about your situation. Some things, like incontinence issues, sexual issues, or loneliness, may be embarrassing to discuss. Rest assured professionals have heard all of these things before and will better be able to address your issues if they know the whole story.
- A pen, a notebook, and sometimes even a tape recorder can be helpful and appropriate to bring with you when you know that a lot of new information is going to be communicated.
- Ask the doctor to slow down or repeat information if he or she is talking too fast. It may be necessary to ask the professional to use words that you understand if they are using medical terminology that is unfamiliar to you. Once, when I got a new diagnosis, I had to do that. The doctor was rattling on and on, and I was so upset that I was not hearing or understanding very well. I finally said, “Look, this information may be routine to you. I’m sure you say it 50 times a day to other patients, but this is the first time I’ve heard it. I need you to slow down.” It made a huge difference for the better in the relationship I have with this doctor now. Sometimes doctors are just in a hurry and don’t realize how that affects the way they relate to you.
- When leaving, ask for written information if you feel you did not understand or are afraid you will forget what you were told. Some doctors will do this for you themselves. If they are not able, ask a nurse to summarize and record the information for you.
- Do your own research about your particular conditions or disease processes prior to your appointment. You can learn a lot by discussing medical concerns with trusted friends or acquaintances, going to the library, or by going online. You will be better prepared and your questions will be more specific.
- Know your body! Many times we defer to our physicians because we think they know more than we do. It’s a good idea to remember that you are the expert on your body. Recognize changes to your body and report to your physician new signs and symptoms, improvements, stress or emotional changes, drug side effects, etc. Sometimes subtle body changes can be crucial in determining what is going on in the big picture and may make a difference in how your condition is treated.
- Lastly, if you are not satisfied with the way you are treated and if, after asking for what you need, your doctor is not able to provide that for you in a way that makes you feel respected and comfortable, you always have the choice to see a different doctor.
Paul R. Blom, Owner/CEO
Right at Home