Caring Currents

Doctors' Visit Checklist

Last updated:

September 18, 2008
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We've all sung the doctor's office blues: 45-minute waits. 10-15 minute visits. A slew of unanswered questions as you're being shown the door.

But it doesn't have to be so. A little advance planning can make a big difference to how much you get out of each doctor's appointment.

Some pointers to help you and your parent or loved one make the most of your time:

1. Be prepared

  • Keep a symptom diary and include dates, times, and frequency and severity of complaints your parent experiences. This can save time and relieve the doctor of having to play 20 questions after he opens with "What brings you in today?"
  • Jot down questions you want answered and share these with the doctor. If the list is long, ask for help prioritizing concerns, and schedule follow-up visits to address outstanding issues as needed.
  • Bring a bag of your parent's medications, supplements, and vitaminsor an up-to-date list that includes drug names, dosage, and frequency of use.
  • Designate one family member as the primary keeper of all medical-related records, which docs say is helpful. If that's your job, use a checklist to set up systems to keep this information organized and share it with other family members. If you're stepping in on a one-time or temporary basis, make sure you're up to speed on your loved one's care so you and the doctor don't waste time covering old ground.

2. Gather information

  • Take notes or record (with permission) what the doctor has to say. That way you can go over the details with your parent and other caregivers after the visit.
  • Pick up written materials, such as patient information sheets, from the doctor or nurse about health conditions or treatments, and keep these with your parent's medical records.

3. Work on the relationship

As with colleagues, spouses, kids, and parents, effective communication is crucial to building a good working relationship and trust with your loved one's doctor.

  • Set a realistic agenda together at the start of the visit.
  • Listen. That may be harder than it sounds.
  • Be honest about your parent's compliance (or lack of) with previously prescribed treatments and therapies.
  • Hone your skills. In November, the National Family Caregivers Association offers free teleclasses on improving communications with healthcare professionals. To register, send your name, phone number, and email address to teleclass@thefamilycaregiver.org, or call 800-896-3650.

4. Leave with an action plan

An action plan can be verbal or written (although it's good to keep notes so you don't forget things) and can cover such areas as:

  • what meds are started or stopped and why
  • what problems or side effects warrant a call to the office
  • what tests have been ordered and why
  • when to schedule the next appointment
  • how, when, and why to check in with the doctor

5. Follow up on test results

Don't assume that no news is good news. As physician blogger Dr. Rob points out, a doctor's office is always on the brink of chaos -- with an incredible amount of information coming in and going out. Think hundreds of phone calls, insurance company headaches, test results. Things can and do fall through the cracks.

So if you don't hear back about your parent's test results, call. Better still, during the appointment ask how the office handles test results, when the doctor expects them to come in, and when you should call if you haven't heard.

6. Be polite

Miss Manners alert: It's easy to take out your frustrations and anxieties on your parent's doctor or her staff. Don't. Getting angry at the staff won't get you in to see the doctor sooner. But it may get you booted from the practice. If you have a genuine concern about how the office runs or how the staff handled your visit, put your complaint in writing and send it to the office manager or directly to the doctor. You're free, of course, to vote with your feet: if you really didn't like how things were handled, and your concerns fall on deaf ears, find another physician.

Equally important, if the doctor, administrative staff, or healthcare personnel go the extra mile for you, or go out of their way to help your loved one, do let them know how much you appreciate their efforts. As one grateful person notes, "In the end that's what we all want...a little pat on the back for a job well done."

Image by Flickr user striatic used under the Creative Commons attribution license.