Talking with Your Doctor: Taking an active role in your healthcare


Hi, welcome to “Talking with Your Doctor:
Taking an active role in your health care,” a presentation from the National Institute
on Aging at the National Institutes of Health. Seeing your doctor on a regular basis is something
most people know how to do, but talking with your doctor—well that’s something else,
isn’t it? Today you’ll learn ways to make better use
of the time you spend with your doctor. You’ll get some tips about getting ready
for an appointment, sharing information, and making decisions with your doctor. When this video ends, you’ll be ready to
make the most of your next appointment! Also, I’ll use the word “doctor.” But I mean any health care professional you
may see, such as a nurse, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant. Now let’s pause here to be sure you have
all the materials you’ll need for this video. First, it would be helpful to have the Talking
With Your Doctor handouts that accompany this presentation. This information will help you recall some
of the most important points that will be discussed today. If you don’t have these handy, you can find
them on our website by searching for “talking with your doctor presentation handouts.” Throughout the presentation, I’ll refer
to specific handouts. The only other thing you’ll need is a pen
or pencil! The information in this presentation comes
from the National Institute on Aging, a Federal agency that is part of the National Institutes
of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services. You can visit www.nia.nih.gov for more information
on this topic. In the past, the doctor-patient relationship
was one-directional—the doctor typically took the lead and the patient followed. Today, a good doctor-patient relationship
is a partnership. As an active member of your healthcare team,
you should: Ask questions! If you don’t understand something, ask your
doctor to explain it again. Your doctor may use technical terms and not
realize they are unfamiliar or confusing unless you say something. Speak up! Tell your doctor if something is bothering
you, such as a pain in your hip, shortness of breath, or other symptoms. Don’t just wait to see if they would go away. Also, let your doctor know if you’re unsure
about a new medication or want to hear about a surgery or other treatment option that might
be right for you. Taking an active role in your care puts the
responsibility for good communication on both you and your doctor. Today, I’ll help make it easier for you
to ask questions and speak up by talking about how to:
Get ready for an appointment, share information, and
make decisions with your doctor. Don’t worry about remembering every detail;
you can find the information from this presentation in the handouts. There are often many details you have to remember
before a doctor’s appointment, such as: Every health issue you’ve had since your
last visit. Concerns you want to discuss.
What medications you take and their dosages. What over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and
supplements you use. You might feel under pressure to fit everything
in during the short time you have with your doctor. It’s easy to see how you might overlook
something important. The handout titled Getting Ready for a Doctor’s
Visit- has a basic plan that can help you get the most out of your medical appointment. There are things you can do to prepare for
an appointment so that you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish and don’t
forget something important. Most of the tips I’ll talk about are for
regularly scheduled doctor’s appointments rather than for emergency visits. Start by listing everything you want to discuss. If you have a new symptom or problem, make
notes about: How long the symptom lasts,
what makes it better or worse, and how it affects your daily activities.
It’s a good idea to start this list at least a week before the appointment, so you have
time to add issues you may have forgotten at first. Prioritize your list of concerns, and highlight
the 3 to 4 most important to discuss first, so that you don’t run out of time to bring
them up. The handout titled Concerns to Discuss will
help you organize and prioritize all of your thoughts and concerns. Make notes of other health and life changes
since your last visit, such as: New illnesses, operations, and medical conditions;
Emergency room or specialist visits; Changes in appetite, weight, sleep, energy
level, mood, or memory; Changes in medications or reactions to medications;
A recent loss or move. You can ask your doctor’s office for
a medical history form before your visit so that you will have extra time to fill out this new information. The handout titled Changes to Discuss will
help you to catalog what changes have occurred and when you first noticed them. Take the following information with you to
the visit: Names and phone numbers of any other doctors you see— even if you don’t see them regularly. Your insurance cards.
If this is your first visit with a new doctor, bring medical records and additional files,
charts, test results, or any other information from your former doctor. Or, have your new doctor’s office contact
the former doctor’s office to get copies of your medical records. You’ll need your old doctor’s name and
address. Bring a complete list of what you take, along
with dose information. Or, put your pills, drops, vitamins, herbal remedies and any other supplements in a bag and bring them with you; but, be careful
not to misplace the bag. It’s possible for medicines to interact,
sometimes causing dangerous side effects. That’s why your doctor needs to know about
ALL the medicines you take, including: Medicines prescribed by other doctors;
Things you buy without a prescription, like headache medicine, eye drops, vitamins, laxatives,
herbal remedies, and other supplements. If you experience side effects, do not stop
taking your medication without first talking to your doctor. The handout titled Keeping Track of Your Medicines
will help you keep track of the different medicines, vitamins, and over-the-counter
drugs you take. As you’ll see, the chart has a space for
you to record: the medication name, what you take it for, when you started taking it, the
doctor that prescribed it, what the medication looks like, how much and how often you take
it, and any special instructions (for example: if you have to take it with food). So, part of your preparation for a doctor’s
visit is putting together your list. Another part is thinking about potential obstacles
to communicating with your doctor. Wear your glasses and hearing aids, and let
your doctor know if you have a hard time seeing or hearing. For instance, you can ask your doctor to speak
slowly. Consider bringing a family member or friend. If you do, bring a person who can take notes and help you remember what the doctor tells you. Make sure this person does not take too strong
a role during the visit. You may even want some private time with your
doctor to discuss something personal. Ask your doctor for an interpreter, if you
need one. If possible, explain your concerns to the
interpreter before your appointment so he or she can fully understand your situation
before telling the doctor. You’ve prepared for your appointment by:
Making a list of your concerns in order of their importance to you, writing down your medications, noting all the changes in your health since
your last visit, and wearing your glasses and hearing aids as needed. Maybe even practicing what you want to discuss with your doctor.
Now you are ready to set your plan into action. When sharing information with your doctor,
start from the top of your prioritized list of health concerns. Describe your symptoms in a clear and concise
way to help your doctor diagnose the problem and decide what to do next. Examples might include pain, fever, a lump
or bump, unexplained weight loss or gain, feeling depressed or sad all the time, problems
sleeping, or diarrhea. Share with your doctor:
What the symptoms are, when they started,
how often you have them, what makes them better or worse, and
how they affect your daily life. Don’t assume your symptoms—like pain or
fatigue—are just a normal part of aging. The doctor needs to know how you feel. After discussing your symptoms,
Go over your medications using the list you created or the bag of medications you put
together before your appointment. Let your doctor know if you’ve had any drug
allergies or reactions. For example, did any medicine make you feel
light-headed, interrupt your sleep, or cause constipation? Make sure the doctor’s office has the contact
information for your pharmacy so that they can call in prescriptions. Try to use the same pharmacy for all your
medicines prescribed by different doctors. The pharmacy tracks all this information and
can notify you about possibly dangerous drug interactions. To provide the best care, your doctor must
understand you as a person and know what your life is like. Your doctor may ask questions about:
What you eat or drink, how you sleep,
what activities you do, and if you smoke or drink.
Think of your doctor’s office as a safe place to share information. It’s best to tell your doctor the whole
truth. Knowing your habits will help your doctor
to understand your medical conditions fully and recommend the best treatment choices for
you. Share any other concerns. For instance, tell your doctor about any major
changes or emotional stress in your life, like a move or a recent loss, or if you’re
concerned about changes in your memory or thinking. The handout titled Making Good Use of Your
Time During a Doctor’s Visit offers tips that will help you make the most of a possibly
limited time you have with your doctor. You’ll GIVE your doctor a lot of information
during your visit, but you’ll also GET a lot of information. Asking questions about this information is
very important. Here’s how a conversation with your doctor
might go. You share your health concerns with your doctor. Then your doctor asks questions about your
symptoms. You answer those questions. Then your doctor shares the diagnosis and
treatment. You ask questions to better understand the
plan, and your doctor answers these questions. Pay close attention to the last two items
on this list. The conversation doesn’t end after the diagnosis
and treatment plan. Ask questions about the diagnosis, any words
you don’t understand, or instructions that are unclear. For example, if a doctor says something about
an acute myocardial infarction, what does he or she mean? The correct answer is that acute myocardial
infarction is a technical term for a heart attack. What about if your doctor tells you to take
medicine with food? Does that mean before, during, or after a
meal? Well, the answer is it depends, which is why
it’s important to ask plenty of questions! Next I’ll talk about the questions to ask
your doctor. The handout titled Questions to Ask During
a Medical Appointment has a list of questions you might consider asking. But remember, this is not a full list. Other questions will likely come up based
on the specific conversation you and your doctor are having. Let’s start with questions about medical
tests. Sometimes doctors do blood tests, x-rays,
or other procedures to find out what’s wrong or to learn more about your medical condition. Some tests are done regularly to check for
hidden medical problems, even though you don’t have any symptoms. Before having a medical test, ask your doctor
to explain why it is important, what it will show, and if insurance will cover the cost. If insurance isn’t going to pay for it,
you can ask who to talk to about the out-of-pocket cost. Some questions to ask your doctor before the
test are: What will the test tell us? What does it involve? How should I get ready? Are there any dangers or side effects? Find out how and when you will get the results. Arrange with your doctor to have the results
of the test explained to you, allowing time for questions. If the test is done by a specialist, have
the results sent to your primary doctor. Next, let’s consider questions about your
diagnosis. A diagnosis is what your doctor determines
to be your health problem. It’s based on your symptoms and the results
of your physical exam and other medical tests. After the doctor gives you a diagnosis, here
are some questions to ask: Why do you think I have this diagnosis? What may have caused it? How long will it last? Is it permanent? How is it treated or managed? And how will it affect me? Make sure you really understand your diagnosis
and its implications. If you don’t, have your doctor explain it
again. Ignoring the diagnosis will not make it go
away. Understanding your condition will help you
make better decisions about treatment, and knowing what to expect may make it easier
to deal with the condition. Have the doctor write down the name of the
condition and any other relevant information for you. That way, you can refer to it later and share
it with others. Ask your doctor if he or she can recommend
any resources to learn more about your condition. Have you ever noticed that when you tell your
doctor something, he or she may repeat it back to you to make sure he or she understood
everything correctly? That’s a great opportunity for you to correct
your doctor if he or she has gotten something wrong. You can do the same thing when getting information
from your doctor. After your doctor tells you something, like
a diagnosis or treatment plan, repeat it back in your own words. Sharing and receiving information are two
important steps in a doctor-patient communication. A third is to make decisions about your care
together. Talk about treatment options. Ask your doctor about all the ways to treat
your health problem. There may be more than one. Discuss the risks and benefits of each one. This includes possible side effects, that
is, unwanted or unexpected symptoms of the treatment. Also ask about:
how likely a treatment might work for you and what exactly it will do;
length of treatment and if you will need help from family or friends; and
whether insurance will pay for the treatment. Have your doctor give directions in writing. Think about how each treatment will affect
your life and ability to do activities you enjoy. Share your concerns, so your doctor can work
with you to develop a treatment plan that meets your needs. If a treatment makes you uncomfortable, ask
if something else might work. If your treatment involves getting a prescription,
make sure you know what to expect. You can find more specific questions about
medications in the handout titled Questions to Ask During a Medical Appointment. Remember that a successful doctor-patient
relationship is a partnership. To recap some highlights from the presentation
today, as an active member of your healthcare team:
Prepare for your appointment by writing down a list of your concerns. Share any changes in your medical history
and a complete list of your medicines. Make sure you understand what the doctor is
telling you. Take notes or ask the doctor to write down
information to help you remember. Although I didn’t talk about them in today’s
presentation, you may want to look at the handouts titled Remembering What the Doctor
Says and Health and Aging Information Resources for additional helpful information to review
before your next appointment. Thank you for listening to this presentation
today. I hope you found it helpful. For additional information on Talking with
Your Doctor and other free resources from the National Institute on Aging:
Visit the website www.nia.nih.gov and look for “Health Information.” There you can find more information about
doctor-patient communication. You can also find a variety of other information
on health and wellness, including materials about exercise and physical activity, making
healthy food choices, quitting smoking, and other behaviors that can help you feel better
and prevent or manage specific conditions. Or, you can call the National Institute on
Aging Information Center toll-free at 1-800-222-2225 to speak to an Information Specialist or email
us at [email protected]

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