Communicating with healthcare providers

Getting great healthcare requires good communication between you and your health professionals.

Do you take time to prepare for your visit to the doctor? Your primary doctor knows you and can help you make medical decisions that are consistent with your values and daily habits. Whether you are reviewing your health history, symptoms, medications or concerns, it is important to gather information and write it down.

Your family medical history is a record of illnesses and medical conditions that have affected your family during previous generations. It can be useful by identifying patterns that might be relevant to your own health. The Mayo Clinic offers a useful guide for how to do this: Medical history: Compiling your medical family tree.

Before going to the doctor, make a list of the things you want to discuss. Rank your questions by importance, and then put them in order so you’re sure to ask about the most important ones first. Think about how you’re going to describe your symptoms. Be honest about how you feel physically and emotionally and give accurate information about all of your medications. Some doctors suggest you put all your prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and herbal remedies or supplements in a bag and bring them with you. At the minimum, bring a complete list of everything you take. A recent survey found that nearly two-thirds of older Americans use some form of complementary and alternative medicine—health practices outside the realm of conventional medicine, such as herbal supplements, meditation, homeopathy and acupuncture. Less than one-third of them, however, discuss these practices with their doctors. This news is a cause for concern because your doctor needs to have a full picture of everything you’re doing to manage your health.

Ask questions during your visit if anything is unclear to you. Bring up any problems or concerns you might have, whether or not the doctor asks about them. Ask about different treatment options. And don’t hesitate to tell the doctor if you have concerns about a particular treatment or change in your daily life.

You might also consider bringing a family member or close friend to your appointment with you. Let him or her know in advance what you want from your visit. Your companion can remind you what you planned to discuss with the doctor if you forget, or take notes for you and help you remember what the doctor said.

Remember, you and your doctor form a partnership when it comes to maintaining your health. A little advanced preparation on your part can help you get the most from a doctor visit.

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