AUGUST 2, 2010 VOLUME 17 NUMBER 24
Your doctor is busy. She is seeing dozens of patients every day, and their insurance plans force her to get those patients taken care of and out the door quickly. By default, she may limit her contact to the minimum necessary to diagnose and treat.
But you want more. You want to know what is really going on. You want to know how you can help, and whether you should be adjusting your diet or your habits. You want to understand the interrelationship of different medications, and the side effects of each. You want to hear about alternative treatments, what the doctor is looking for, what you can expect.
How are you going to get that information from your smart, helpful, friendly but very busy doctor? By talking with her, of course.
Easier said than done. In a perfect world you would have all the tools you need -- well, actually, in a perfect world you wouldn't need a doctor at all, but we're some distance from either level of perfection. But maybe a new publication from the National Institute on Aging can help.
"Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People" is a practical pamphlet designed to give you some tips about how to communicate with your physician (or, for that matter, your physician's assistant, nurse practitioner or other health professional). It comes complete with some worksheets and checklists to help you organize yourself for your initial or periodic doctor's visit. Do you have your advance directives with you? Have you listed all the medications AND over-the-counter AND herbal remedies and supplements you take? Do you have your insurance card, the names and phone numbers of specialists or other doctors you see, your eyeglasses and hearing aids with you?
Some practical tips from the NIA publication:
Perhaps you are helping care for (or are concerned about) an elderly family member or friend, or one with a disability. The NIA booklet can serve as a guide for you, as well. You can use the checklists and worksheets to collect and organize information, and to help you keep track of questions you need to address. The tips for communication with your doctor will work every bit as well when the patient is someone you are caring for, or care about.
You can order printed copies of "Talking With Your Doctor" for free. You can also download it online and print out only those portions you need -- like the worksheets, for instance. It could help you get a better handle on your medical treatment, or the treatment of someone you care for or about.