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Discovery: Going to the Doctor? Take an Advocate Along

Take a companion with you when you go to the doctor, and you’ll get a lot more out of the visit.

That’s the advice of researchers Jennifer L. Wolff and Debra L. Roter of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. In a survey of more than 12,000 Medicare beneficiaries, all age 65 or older, researchers found that more than a third of those surveyed reported that they were usually accompanied on visits to their doctors, most often by spouses or adult children, but frequently by other relatives, friends or neighbors.

A notable finding of the study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, was that the older people who regularly had companions with them stated they liked their doctors more and were more satisfied with the care they received than those who went alone. The companions helped with communication between patient and doctor by providing useful information about the patient’s medical condition, asking pertinent questions, recording the doctor’s comments and instructions, and explaining the instructions to the patient. Other companions provided company and moral support and assisted with logistics such as transportation. Their usefulness was most beneficial for people who were especially vulnerable—those who were older, sicker or less educated than the others.

Ruth Shapley, 80, of Chappaqua, N.Y., says, “When it’s not just a routine visit, I take my daughter or a friend with me to be an extra set of ears and to take notes. When I’m anxious, I tend to forget a lot of the things the doctor tells me.”

Donna Sweet, M.D., an internist and professor of medicine at the University of Kansas in Wichita who has been practicing medicine for 25 years, has many older patients. She says it’s much easier for both her and the patients to have somebody come with them.

“Maybe they wouldn’t tell me that they fell three times last month, that they don’t always remember to take their medications, that they often get dizzy,” Sweet says. “And they may not hear everything I say. But it’s that other person who can interpret and remember for them. They’re bound to get better care and feel more secure.”

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