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8 Ways to Make the Most Out of Doctor Visits

What caregivers can do to make sure you're getting the best care

En español | A medical appointment is too important — and often too quick — to enter unprepared. Whether you are seeing a doctor yourself or accompanying someone you care for, it's smart to take time beforehand to make your visit as productive as possible.

Think ahead of questions you have for the doctor and be ready with your medical information. Consider your health care professional as your partner. Both of you have the same goal of keeping your family as healthy as possible.

Here are some tips to make the most of your visit.

1. Make a list of all prescriptions

Show your doctor a list of everything you or your loved one is taking — not just what that individual doctor has prescribed. Sometimes one doctor is unaware of what another doctor has prescribed. If you've gotten different medications at different pharmacies, the pharmacists can miss active interactions between drugs. And remember that over-the-counter meds and vitamin supplements can also interact with your prescribed drugs. By creating a complete list, and filling them with one pharmacy, you can help to ensure all your medications are working safely together.

Making the Most of Your Doctor Visit. Caregiving Resource Center.

For yourself or as a caregiver, take time beforehand to make a doctor visit as productive as possible. — Pamela Moore/Getty Images

2. Check your refill needs

Look through your medicine cabinet and make a note of any refills that will be needed soon. Remember not to let yourself get down to a few tablets before asking for a refill. Last-minute requests make up the largest volume of calls in many doctors' offices, so having this information going into an appointment can save you and your doctor's office time on the telephone.

3. If a wheelchair is needed, ask ahead

Many doctors' offices have a wheelchair to help patients get from their cars to their office. If you are caring for somebody who uses a wheelchair, call ahead to find out if your doctor has one. This can save you the trouble and hassle of bringing your own.

4. Make a list of any questions

Think ahead about any questions you'd like to discuss with your doctor — and don't just wait until right before your visit. Keep a list on your refrigerator or near your phone, and jot down questions as they pop into your head.

5. Don't be shy

Don't be embarrassed to discuss anything with your doctor. Whether it's a question about sexual function or the price of a drug, you should not be afraid to bring it up. In the interest of your health, you need to be candid. Chances are the doctor has heard the concern before and will make you feel comfortable talking about it.

6. Don't overlook nurses as a resource

Not all your questions need to be answered by the doctor. Often, a nurse can address your concerns and may have more time to explain. Usually, a nurse will come in to take your "vitals" — your blood pressure and pulse rate — before the physician examines you. Start asking those questions on your list. If the nurse doesn't have an answer, you can follow-up with the doctor.

7. Make sure you go to all appointments

If you are a caregiver, it is very helpful to accompany your loved one to all medical appointments. It is time consuming, but hearing what the doctor has to say first-hand helps avoid confusion or misinterpretation of treatment. Some caregivers find it's easiest to schedule all doctor appointments on the same weekday. Or ask to be scheduled early morning or late in the day around your work schedule. Your doctor may be more flexible than you think.

8. Ask for a home health care visit

If you are caring for somebody on Medicare, find out if he or she qualifies for home health care and, if so, ask the doctor to prescribe a home health care visit (PDF). There is no cost for Medicare home health services if the patient meets the conditions — for example, being homebound and needing skilled nursing care or physical therapy. Your doctor's office may also help you set up a visit with somebody who will evaluate your home for dangers and will offer suggestions as to how you can improve the safety of the environment. Common household hazards, such as a loose rugs or slippery showers, can cause falls and serious injuries. A home safety review can make you aware of simple fixes to enhance the quality of life and comfort for your loved one.

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