Prescription for a Productive Doctor Visit

Do you accompany your aging parents to their doctor visits? Do you feel like you need to, but can’t (distance or time)? Here are some ideas to help make the most of the visit in either case.

Our elderly parents are often thrown off their game by a doctor visit. They may not feel well; they may be tired from waiting; they might feel rushed by the doctor in a perpetual hurry. They might have forgotten why they made the appointment three months ago. Many things can contribute to a less than ideal visit and/or resulting confusion afterwards.

Here are 4 ways to make the most of the visit:

  • Make sure they have all the information together ahead of time that the office will request when they arrive. They’ll always need their Medicare card, supplemental insurance card, list of medications and dosages, ID card, and health history. If any of this is hard for them to remember, put it together on one sheet and leave it in their wallet for easy retrieval.
  • Help them put together a list of symptoms, questions, concerns and/or issues that they want to discuss with the doctor. In an earlier blog and in my book, I suggest keeping a notebook so they’ll have continuity of previous visits, plus they can write down questions and concerns as they come up (not just prior to the doctor visit). If the list is long, you might like to give a copy of this list to the nurse or assistant when they escort you to the exam room. That way, the doctor can have a chance to look it over prior to the exam.
  • Make notes on the list as the doctor addresses them. If you can’t be there and your parent doesn’t want to (or can’t), fax a copy to the front desk or medical assistant before the appointment and ask that they fax or email it back with the doctor’s response.
  • If any new prescriptions are given or existing meds changed, ask the doctor to write down the new instructions for the meds and what the med is intended to treat. This way, you can give it to the pharmacist and ask for them to verify it doesn’t conflict with other meds or conditions. Plus, your parent will have the explanation written down if the Rx is sent electronically.

Without a “treatment team” in eldercare, you almost always end up being the coordinator, the advocate and the collective memory. Even if your parent does have coordinated care (I doubt it!), you still need to be the captain of the ship to make sure your elders are getting the care they need, for the symptoms they have, in a timely and clear manner.

If your parent is being a pill about your help with their medical care, offer to order an extra vaccination or even repeat a recent colonoscopy .

5 thoughts on “Prescription for a Productive Doctor Visit”

  1. Really helpful, Suzanne.

    In a future column, could you address how to adapt these strategies for a long-distance caring child of an aging parent?

    1. Lisa, thanks for your suggestion. It’s a good one and I will address the unique, and often difficult, challenges of long-distance advocacy for aging parents. In the meantime, you can contact your parent’s doctors, send them a copy of your power of attorney (if you have one) and let them know you’d like to receive a summary of the elder’s visit afterwards (either by fax or email). You’ll need to follow up with the nurse/medical assistant on the day before the visit and after the visit – but I’ve found they are open to your participation if you’re willing to be the reminder for them.

  2. Suzanne, do you have any advice for getting a parent to GO to the doctor? My mom is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s and refuses to go to the doctor. She didn’t go much when she was younger and thinks she’s just fine as she is. We’re stuck. Thanks for any help you can give!

    1. Beth, that’s a tough place to be. Some of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s dementia are the stubbornness and obstinence. In this case, it’s your mom’s unwillingness to go to the doctor. I do have some thoughts that I’ll share with you in a private message. In general though, you might have to make the appointment for her and take her there, saying you are hoping for the doctor to clear up any misunderstandings you might have about your mom’s health. Use the doctor as the “authority” that your mom might see as someone who can reiterate to you that she doesn’t need to go. Once there, the doctor (especially if you have had a private conversation beforehand or have been able to let the staff know you need help with this) can reinforce to your mom that she indeed does need and will benefit from going to the doctor.

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