Heath and Aging

Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People

How Should I Prepare? Getting Ready for an Appointment

A basic plan can help you make the most of your appointment whether you are starting with a new doctor or continuing with the doctor you've seen for years. The following tips will make it easier for you and your doctor to cover everything you need to talk about.

cartoon of woman doing paperwork

Make a list of your concerns and prioritize them

Make a list of what you want to discuss. For example, do you have a new symptom you want to ask the doctor about? Do you want to get a flu shot? Are you concerned about how a treatment is affecting your daily life? If you have more than a few items to discuss, put them in order and ask about the most important ones first. Don't put off the things that are really on your mind until the end of your appointment—bring them up right away!

Take information with you

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. Others recommend you bring a list of everything you take. You should also take your insurance cards, names, and phone numbers of other doctors you see, and your medical records if the doctor doesn't already have them.

Make sure you can see and hear as well as possible

Many older people use glasses or need aids for hearing. Remember to take your eyeglasses to the doctor's visit. If you have a hearing aid, make sure that it is working well and wear it. Let the doctor and staff know if you have a hard time seeing or hearing. For example, you may want to say: "My hearing makes it hard to understand everything you're saying. It helps a lot when you speak slowly."

Consider bringing a family member or friend

Sometimes it is helpful to bring a family member or close friend with you. Let your family member or friend 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, she or he can take notes for you, and can help you remember what the doctor said.

Find an interpreter if you know you'll need one

If the doctor you selected or were referred to doesn't speak your language, consider bringing an interpreter with you. Sometimes community groups can help find an interpreter. Or you can call the doctor's office ahead of time to see if one can be provided for you. Sometimes doctors ask a staff member to help with interpretation. Even though some English-speaking doctors know basic medical terms in Spanish or other languages, you may feel more comfortable speaking in your own language, especially when it comes to sensitive subjects, such as sexuality or depression.

You can also ask a family member who speaks English to go with you. This person should be someone you trust with knowing about your symptoms or condition. Finally, let the doctor, your interpreter, or the staff know if you do not understand your diagnosis or the instructions the doctor gives you. Don't let language barriers stop you from asking questions or voicing your concerns.

Finding and Using an Interpreter

  • Look for an interpreter through community or neighborhood associations, the doctor's office staff, and your own network of friends and family.
  • If possible, select someone with whom you will feel comfortable if they learn about your symptoms or condition. For example, you may not want to ask your children to interpret a conversation on sexuality.
  • Consider telling your interpreter what you want to talk about with your doctor before the appointment.
  • If your language is Spanish and your interpreter does not come from the same country or background as you, use universal Spanish terms to describe your symptoms.
  • Make sure your interpreter understands your symptoms or condition before he or she conveys your message to the doctor. You don't want the doctor to prescribe the wrong medication!
  • Don't be afraid to let your interpreter know if you did not understand something that was said, even if you need to ask that it be repeated several times.

Resources in Spanish

If you are looking for written information in Spanish there are an increasing number of resources that can help. For example, the National Institute on Aging (NIA) has translated many of its AgePages to Spanish. AgePages (called Vivir Mejor la Tercera Edad in Spanish) are short, easy-to-read fact sheets on a wide variety of health and aging topics. To get copies of these free publications you can call 1-800-222-2225; or order them online at www.nia.nih.gov/health or www.nia.nih.gov/espanol.

Plan to update the doctor - Let your doctor know what has happened in your life since your last visit. If you have been treated in the emergency room or by a specialist, tell the doctor right away. Mention any changes you have noticed in your appetite, weight, sleep, or energy level. Also tell the doctor about any recent changes in any medications you take or the effects they have had on you. A helpful checklist is included at the back of this booklet.

Summary: Getting Ready for an Appointment

  • Be prepared: make a list of concerns.
  • Take information with you.
  • Make sure you can see and hear as well as possible.
  • Consider bringing a family member or friend.
  • Find an interpreter if you know you'll need one.
  • Plan to update the doctor on what has happened since your last visit.

Tips: Getting Started With a New Doctor

Your first meeting is a good time to talk with the doctor and the office staff about some communication basics.

  • First name or last name - When you see the doctor and office staff, introduce yourself and let them know by what name you like to be called. For example: "Hello, my name is Mrs. Jones." or "Good morning, my name is Bob Smith. Please call me Bob."
  • Ask how the office runs - Learn what days are busiest and what times are best to call. Ask what to do if there is an emergency, or if you need a doctor when the office is closed.
  • Share your medical history - Tell the doctor about your illnesses, operations, medical conditions, and other doctors you see. You may want to ask the doctor to send you a copy of the medical history form before your visit so you can fill it out at home where you have the time and information you need to complete it. If you have problems understanding how to fill out any of the forms, ask for help. Some community organizations provide this kind of help.
  • Share former doctors' names - Give the new doctor all of your former doctors' names and addresses, especially if they are in a different city. This is to help your new doctor get copies of your medical records. Your doctor will ask you to sign a medical release form giving him or her permission to request your records.

 

Publication Date: April 2010
Page Last Updated: July 18, 2014