Many retirees use the new year as a reminder that it’s time for their annual health checkup. For others, this is the season when colds or the flu send them to the doctor’s office.
Whether you are visiting a healthcare provider for preventive care, an unexpected ailment or injury, or a chronic health condition, you won’t have time to dawdle once the doctor enters the exam room. Most primary care doctors schedule one patient every 15 minutes; others schedule every 11 minutes.
While that might sound like a reasonable amount of time to exchange greetings, explain to the doctor your “chief complaint” (the main reason for your visit), examine the concern, make a diagnosis, discuss treatments, and potentially write a prescription or order tests, the reality is that this is a very quick turnaround time given the amount of documentation that doctors are required to do for each patient visit in this day and age.
So how do you make the most of the brief time you are allotted with your senior healthcare provider? There are some steps you can take to maximize your doctor’s appointment.
Prepare in advance for your visit
Prior to your appointment, take a few moments to write down some notes about any issues you have been having. Include details like when symptoms began, as well as any other bodily changes you have noticed lately such as differences in sleep patterns, food consumption, energy level, or bowel habits.
There are some issues that most people aren’t eager to discuss with even a close friend or loved one, much less a near-stranger. But the reality is that there is nothing you can tell your doctor that they haven’t heard before, so it is critical to be honest, even about “unsavory” topics like bowel movements, sexual function, or number of sexual partners. It is also vital that you be forthright about street drug use and alcohol consumption as they can help your doctor determine if additional health screenings are needed.
Listen closely to what the doctor tells you, especially with regard to medication dosage and how frequently it should be taken. It is helpful to write down notes to be sure you remember what you are told, or take a friend or loved one with you to the appointment so there is a second set of ears hearing the doctor’s orders. At the conclusion of your appointment, consider repeating back to the doctor exactly what you heard to verify that you understood instructions correctly.
Advocate for yourself
If the doctor brushes off a senior health issue that is truly bothering you, push the topic and insist on further exploration of the cause. If a diagnosis is made that requires medication or some other course of action, work with your doctor to find a mutually agreeable treatment approach. For example, if a drug has potentially worrying side effects, voice your concern, and see if there are other medications or treatments that might be as effective but with fewer negative consequences.
Get another opinion
When doctors are so rushed to get from one patient to the next, errors can be made and problems can be inadvertently overlooked. Even lab work and imaging tests are not foolproof. If you feel that something is truly wrong, even though your doctor hasn’t found anything, consider consulting another healthcare provider for a second opinion. This is also true when a serious condition is diagnosed or surgery is recommended. As intelligent and caring as doctors are, they are human, and like the rest of us, they can make mistakes.
Take control of your healthcare!
Don’t ignore changes in your body or how you feel. Most diseases or conditions are highly treatable, especially if diagnosed early, so make a doctor’s appointment if you notice anything that is different or changing. And by using the tips above, you can ensure you get the most out of the limited time you have with your doctor to get to the root of the issue.