For me, the less medicine I am subjected to, the happier I am so in the arena of healthcare, I rely on two principles from the non-medical world:
- If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
- The hammer and nail rule (if you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail) applies equally to physicians: If your job is to heal people, everyone looks sick.
Now before we go one ssentence further today, let's be absolutely clear: the above is NOT a recommendation for anyone else. Period. Full stop. It's just a jumping off point to help explain how I came to write this blog post.
Okay? Moving along.
It's still two or three weeks until my “annual” wellness visit (“annual” in quotation marks because it's going on two years since the last one). It's a routine visit – I have no complaints - but I want my time with the doctor (which isn't much these days) to count. So I'm already preparing.
This is the kind of checklist I've used for many years and it has served me well particularly, I think, because with so little contact there is no reason the doctor should remember me. But it's a good idea even if you see a doctor more frequently, so you don't forget anything you want to know.
LIST OF MEDICATIONS
This time there are only two but one is a supplement the doctor said I need last time I saw him. So I want to be sure the test is ordered to check current levels.
Some people, particularly those who take a variety of prescription drugs, just drop all the bottles, into a bag to take to the appointment. Be sure to include over-the-counter supplements, pain killers, etc. and dosages.
MEDICAL CARE SINCE LAST VISIT
Another list, this one of health care the primary physician doesn't know about but should probably be in your main record. In my case, cataract surgery, the results of some short-term physical therapy, annual flu shot, pneumonia shot, and my ongoing dental work that includes bone grafts.
If care from other medical professionals is ongoing, include their names, locations and contact information.
MEDICAL/HEALTH QUESTIONS AND CONCERNS
Yes, another list. This one is of changes in how my body is working (it could be my mind, too, if/when I think that is in question) or symptoms that I want to ask about.
There are three or four items I'll ask about during this appointment. There is nothing that worries me but I want to confirm that and ask what's going on.
Such symptoms as dizziness, falling, hearing, incontinence problems, weight changes up or down, insomnia and chest pain among others become more common in old age. Don't ever be reticent about discussing anything of concern with your doctor.
If you have researched the web about any issues you have, bring printouts of what you think is applicable or about which you have questions but use your head. Don't give him/her a sheaf of pages – only what is minimally necessary.
UPDATED CONTACT INFORMATION
If any of your contacts have changed, that's another list to bring. Emergency contacts, health care surrogate, medical insurance changes if any, pharmacy name and telephone and, of course, copies of any DNR (do not resuscitate) and other emergency and end-of-life instructions.
As luck would have it, when I was mostly done with writing this, an email arrived from the National Institute on Aging titled Talking With Your Doctor: A Guide for Older People.
It covers most of what is listed above and one other thing I left out that is important: family and friends.
Many years ago, when she was in her 30s or so, a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is a reporter and of course, went into research mode to see what treatment was recommended for her kind of cancer, what outcomes were expected and what were the variables, among other information.
But she realized, too, how rattled she was so she brought a close friend, another reporter, with her to every appointment and discussion with experts about her case so that she would be certain to have all the notes she would need to make her treatment decision.
I've always been impressed that she thought to do that, especially back when doctors were still perceived to sit on the left hand of god.
It's much more common today to be involved in our own treatment and you can bring a friend or family member with you, even on a routine visit if you need or want to.
The section about talking with your doctor at The National Institute on Aging is very good and there are prepared checklists for doctor visits that you can print out. You'll find it all here.