Among the most important allies in your loved one's care are healthcare professionals. And for some, they're also among the most intimidating. No matter how independent your loved one is, he or she is likely to benefit from your help in communicating with doctors and other healthcare professionals. When meeting with doctors, in particular, two sets of ears are better than one. Here are some guidelines for keeping the communication clear and effective.
Preparing to Talk with Your Doctor
Before any medical visit, you and your loved one should prepare. You'll want to make a list of symptoms, questions, and concerns, in order of priority. Leave space to take notes, and clarify who will be doing the asking and/or writing. If the list is lengthy or complicated, alert the doctor's office and request a longer time slot. Here is a Doctor Visit Form to get you started.
Now is also a good time to research online any background information that might be useful: standard treatment, medications, etc. Be sure you use reputable sites. Two excellent places to start are the Center For Disease Control and WebMD. Don’t present your doctor with a stack of printouts, but do educate yourself as much as possible about your loved one's condition.
If this is a visit to a new doctor, preparation should include creating or updating a Medical History and a list of Current Medications, with dosage, frequency, and length of time the drug has been taken. If the patient has experienced any side effects, they should be noted. Check our section on Medication Management for more information on this subject.
The Office Visit
Arrive early, especially if you anticipate having to fill out forms before seeing the doctor. Identify yourself to the receptionist, nurse, and doctor, and clarify your relationship to the patient. As much as possible allow your loved one to ask and answer questions, but if you feel that important information has been omitted, be sure to provide it. Listen carefully to the doctor's answers to questions, and repeat them back in order to be sure you've understood what's been said. If you're afraid you may miss important things, bring a recorder to the meeting, but be sure you let the doctor know and get his/her permission before using it.
Questions to Ask Your Doctor
Before you leave the doctor's office, you should be clear on the following;
- What is your loved one's diagnosis?
- What treatment should he/she be receiving?
- What medications should he/she be taking? Dosage? Special instructions?
- Does he/she need any new or renewal prescriptions written?
- If there are to be any changes in routine, what are they?
- Are there any activities, foods, etc, that should be avoided? Encouraged?
- Are there any tests that should be scheduled? Appointments with specialists or other health care providers?
- When should your loved one be seen again?
- What symptoms or changes should trigger a call to the doctor?
- What symptoms or changes would constitute a medical emergency?
- Is there a way to communicate with the doctor or another healthcare professional if questions arise between visits?
For your convenience, these questions, along with spaces to record answers, are in the downloadable Doctor Visit Form.
Follow Up Conversations with the Doctor
If your visit results in new prescriptions to be filled, you may also have the opportunity to communicate with the pharmacist. It's a good idea to get all prescriptions filled with the same pharmacist, and to tap into his/her expertise as well. If you have any questions about when or how medications should be taken, or potential for interactions between medications, the pharmacist can be a helpful resource. You may not be able to establish an old-fashioned personal relationship, but most pharmacies have access to online databases with valuable information, and many can personalize your loved one's online information as well. See Medication Management for more on this topic.