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Health & Wellness

How Can I Be Better Prepared for My Doctor's Visits?

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Primary-care physicians are able to spend, on average, less than 16 minutes with their patients who are 65 and older, according to a survey of medical practices across the United States.1

That works out to roughly five minutes devoted to the chief topic of concern, and just over one minute on remaining topics.

For patients, this means you need to be thoughtful and well prepared so you can maximize the time you do have with your doctor.

GetOld reached out to a variety of health-care professionals, including physicians and healthcare advocates, for advice. Here are their top tips for making the most of your office visits:

Make a list of your questions and concerns prior to the visit. Patients often feel rushed during a doctor visit and when you combine this with the stress of feeling ill, it’s easy to leave a medical appointment only to discover you forgot to ask a very important question. If you have multiple concerns, focus on the top one or two, if possible.  Prioritize your list ahead of time and schedule a follow-up appointment to discuss your additional concerns.

~Nicole Rochester, M.D. Founder of, a healthcare advocacy company

Be prepared to provide a brief, concise description of the reason for your visit. 

Writing down this information is often helpful. If you are having symptoms of an acute illness, such as fever or chills, be prepared to list them, state how long you have had them, what treatments you may have tried yourself (such as over-the-counter remedies), and whether anyone else in your family has had similar symptoms.  If you are having recurring symptoms associated with a chronic illness, identify what they are and whether or not any current therapy is helping.

~Jane Renfro, Ph.D., Adult Nurse Practitioner

Create a journal of any daily symptoms that you have.

Bring the journal to your appointment.  Simple aches and pains or ongoing fatigue might seem like they are part of the natural course of aging, but they may be signs that something more serious is brewing. If you find yourself experiencing particular symptoms on an ongoing basis, don’t forget to discuss these symptoms during your visit.

~Chirag Shah, M.D., emergency medicine physician and co-founder of

Bring any lab test or other diagnostic test results with you.

If you have had any done in the past year and they were performed in an outside facility without the involvement of the doctor you’re seeing, it’s important to have those on file.  As a doctor, it is very helpful to review a patient's recent test results, as it helps to paint a more complete picture of one's overall health. 

~Chirag Shah, M.D., emergency medicine physician and co-founder of

Come with your health history written down.

If your doctor’s office hasn’t already had you fill out a comprehensive medical form, it’s probably safe to assume you’ll have to complete this in the office. The information should include all past illness and surgeries, including dates; any allergies; medications, including dosages, time taken, and any vitamins, herbal supplements and over-the-counter drugs; and your family’s health history, including major medical conditions and age of onset.

~Elizabeth Sauter, M.D., obstetrician/gynecologist

Consider bringing someone with you.

It’s not always easy to remember everything the doctor is telling you.  If you have a loved one with you for support, he or she can also help by taking notes and asking questions. Make sure you understand what the doctor tells you; if you don't, say so and ask him or her to repeat it. Don't leave the appointment without a clear understanding of what you were told and what you are supposed to do next. 

~Gayle Byck, Ph.D., patient advocate, founder of

Repeat after the doctor. 

If the doctor is using medical jargon that you don’t quite understand, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. This is your health—it's important to understand your diagnosis and treatment options, especially if you've waited a while to get an appointment and be seen. Consider asking something like: "Can I try this in my own words, so I make sure I understand?"

~Lori Gardner, registered nurse and CEO and founder of HealthLink Advocates

Learn how to reconnect after the appointment. 

Near the end of the appointment, ask the doctor, "I know I'll have questions when I get home. What's the best way to reach you?" The doctor may have certain hours he or she takes calls, a nurse may take questions instead or your doctor may be receptive to email. Knowing these communication preferences in advance will make it easier to follow up.

~Lori Gardner, registered nurse and CEO and founder of HealthLink Advocates

Don’t be afraid to ask any question, even if you think it’s “silly.”

It’s important you understand everything about your condition and how to treat it. There’s a very likely chance that someone else has asked your doctor the same questions. Your doctor is there to help you.

~Darlene Mayo, M.D., neurosurgeon, founder of

At the end of your visit ask your doctor for a printout.

It is a good idea to have a reference to take home describing your diagnosis and health condition, any tests you need to have done, any new medicines you need to take and any other doctors you need to see. Be careful searching for information on the internet on your own. Your doctor is the most reliable source of information that’s relevant to you.

~Darlene Mayo, M.D., neurosurgeon, founder of

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