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Tips to Prepare for a Doctor’s Visit (Virtual or In-Person)

As we emerge from this unprecedented time and try to regain some of life as we once knew, the time has come to focus on those things we have neglected during this past year. I’m guessing you’ve avoided any in-person appointments for yourself and your parents. But it truly is so important to regroup, re-equilibrate, re-invigorate, and get our general health and health maintenance back on track.

Virtual doctor visits have become popular during COVID. Although very convenient, these may pose difficulties for some older adults who may not be technologically savvy enough to connect a device, download the link, correct the sound issue, etc. etc. While in-person visits are often preferable, virtual options are here to stay—at least for the short term. A word of advice: if your parents have made a virtual appointment for a doctor’s visit, plan to be with them for the visit to make sure that there are no technical glitches and that they are able to hear what the physician is saying. An issue with a phone or computer is likely to waste precious time and is a source of frustration for the patient and the doctor. I must confess that I was so anxious about the potential for a technical issue with my upcoming virtual appointment, that I read and re-read the instructions I received at least 5 times the night before! Crazy, right?!

Whether virtual, or in-person, it’s time to mobilize and make those important appointments today—for you and your loved ones. I urge you to be prepared; it’s likely been a long time and you will want to maximize the moments you have with your/your parent’s physician and be sure to get all those questions answered. Just how do you do that? I’ve put together a prep list for doctor appointments that will help efficiently use your time with the doctor, self-advocate, and help to focus on the pressing things.

Most importantly, I do recommend that older adults have a significant other accompany them to all appointments. As confident and cognitively intact as an older adult might perceive themselves to be, there is always something that is not heard or seen or addressed correctly, and another set of eyes and ears can prevent misinterpretation and ensure correct translation of follow up actions. In addition to having a photo ID and an updated insurance card(s) for the appointment, consider the following items:

Health Data

Computers have certainly been an asset to busy physician practices. Your vaccines, medications, workups, and blood tests are centralized within a given medical office. But the truth is, the files are only as accurate as the information reaching them and the individuals inputting data. Additionally, different medical offices may utilize different software, so if you have multiple doctors, it’s likely you have different portals using different systems in different places. My first suggestion is to maintain a complete profile of your/your parents’ health information in your home. Start a log to keep track of mammograms, colonoscopies, bone density exams, blood tests, and any follow up testing that is needed. Make a brief note of any relevant findings that must be followed up, along with the timeframe. Put this information in a very clearly marked file and update as often as necessary. Prior to your appointment, take a glance at your file and make a note of those exams or tests that are coming due. While your doctor will likely be perusing the computer screen in front him/her trying to figure out what test or vaccine is needed, it’s far more efficient for you produce your list, and also serves to double check the information your physician has.

Medication and Allergy List

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS retain an updated list of all allergies, and medications being taken along with times, dosages and dates started. Make sure to include any vitamins and supplements being taken. I encourage people to take a picture of the list and keep it with them- either on your cell phone, or, for older adults, in their wallets, at all times. Medication errors are all too common, and one way to prevent them is to accurately translate an updated medication list to whatever practitioner or facility you are interacting with. This is even more important when going into a hospital and when a person is being moved from one place to another. Make sure that you review updated medications each time you speak with a different health care provider. I know how frustrating it can be to have to repeat this numerous times, but please take my word- it is far better to have to reiterate this a number of times, than take the chance of being prescribed or given an incorrect medication, dosage, or not being started on a crucial medication. Recently I had a client transfer from a rehab facility to an assisted living community. A day after arrival, the client began feeling flu-like and an extensive work up was initiated to determine the cause. When I questioned the nurse about medications, we realized that an antidepressant that the person had been on for years had not been re-ordered upon rehab discharge. My client was actually experiencing withdrawal symptoms, which could mimic flu-like symptoms. Thank goodness it was an easy fix without long term effects.

Symptoms and Concerns (YES—INCLUDING DRIVING!)

How many times have you left a doctor’s appointment only to say, “ugh I forgot to ask her about…..”? Several days prior to a scheduled doctor’s appointment, start a “symptom diary” to keep track of those pangs and pains—make note of timing of the symptoms along with anything that occurs. If there is a gastrointestinal concern (stomach ache, bowel issues, etc.), be sure to make note of the types of foods you ate 24 hours prior; if a joint is painful, make note of what activity aggravates the pain. If you sustained an injury, jot down the circumstances so that the physician can accurately assess the condition.

Keep a list of anything that has been troubling and that you want to address with your (your parent’s) doctor. It’s a “Ready Reference Guide” for you to ensure that all of your issues are brought to light.

I have had many clients talk to me about a deterioration in their parent’s driving ability. If this is a concern, I suggest that a call be made to the physician prior to the scheduled appointment to briefly discuss it, and give the doctor a heads up. I recommend that the physician be asked to have the senior evaluated by an objective third party. Doctor’s may not be aware of what driving evaluations are available, however. In New York, Burke Outpatient Rehabilitation offers an Occupational Driver’s Evaluation that simulates a real-life driving scenario. The exam is conducted by an Occupational Therapist who evaluates the senior’s response time, concentration ability, and dexterity (steering wheel movement, braking ability, etc.). A doctor’s prescription for an “Occupational Drivers Evaluation” is needed and an appointment can be made directly through Burke. I strongly recommend having professionals determine whether or not it is safe for an older adult to continue to be behind a steering wheel—it takes the emotion out of a child having to make that decision. A face-to-face physician appointment is a great time to initiate this discussion. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) can assist in identifying Occupational Therapy practitioners who can administer driving evaluations close to your home. Refer to for additional information about this type of testing.

Taking Notes During A Doctor’s Appointment

Have a pad and pen in hand during the visit, and make sure to jot down all relevant test findings and recommendations that the physician makes. Write down what tests are discussed, and be sure to ask for prescriptions for any required tests before you leave, as well as any prescriptions needed for medication renewals. Ask the doctor about follow up appointments and be sure to make a note of those as well.

Taking YOUR Health into YOUR Hands

Do not forget for one minute that doctors’ practices are VERY busy places. Between seeing patients, completing paperwork, answering calls, entering computer information, and answering time consuming insurance queries, physician brain fatigue can be very real. Don’t be afraid to remind your physician about questions that you have asked that haven’t been answered, or anything that YOU know is problematic and needs follow up. If something doesn’t sound right, question it. Remember, your body and your health are ultimately YOUR responsibility, so take matters into your hands and be sure that you are satisfied with the health care you are receiving.


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