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How to make the most of your doctor’s visit

Dear Savvy Senior: Imanage a clinic that treats thousands of seniors each year. We’ve have found that patients who come prepared to see a doctor are much more satisfied with the care they receive. Can you educate patients on how to prepare for appointments? — Healthcare Helper

Dear Helper: Studies have shown that patients who help their doctors by providing important health information and preparing themselves for appointments get better care than patients who don’t. Some simple things can help maximize your next doctor visit.

Gather your health information and get organized before your appointment, especially if you’re seeing multiple doctors or are meeting with a new one.

Specifically, you need to:

>> Make sure any new doctor has copies of your latest X-ray, MRI or any other recent test or lab results. You’ll probably need to do the legwork yourself, which may only require a phone call to your previous doctor asking for the items to be sent, or you may need to pick them up.

>> Make a list of all your medications, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs, supplements and herbs, along with the dosages. Or, just put all your pill bottles in a bag and take them to your appointment.

>> Be able to talk to your doctor about any previous medical problems and procedures, even if they’re not the reason for this visit. Write it down if it’s complicated. Genetics matter, too, so know your family’s health history.

>> Make a list of the top three or four issues you want to discuss. Most appointments last 15 to 20 minutes, so this can help you stay on track. If you’re in for a diagnostic visit, prepare a detailed description of your symptoms.

>> Speak up and get to the point. Right away, concisely explain why you’re there. Don’t wait to be asked. Be direct, honest and specific when recounting symptoms or expressing concerns. Many patients are embarrassed to talk about their symptoms, which makes the doctor’s job a lot harder.

>> Bring a family member or friend to your appointment to help you ask questions, listen to what the doctor is telling you and give you support.

>> Take notes or ask the doctor if you can record the session for later review. If you don’t understand what the doctor is telling you, ask for an explanation in simple terms. And if you run out of time, ask if you can follow up by phone or email, make another appointment or seek help from the doctor’s nurse.

The National Institute on Aging offers an excellent booklet called “Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People.” For a free copy call 800-222-2225 or visit

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