Taking to a doctor or anyone who specializes in a specific field can be intimidating or even frustrating. That pain in your shoulder that has been bothering you for the last two months is making you anxious. It seems like such a minor complaint to have. But you’ve been thinking. What if it’s the onset of arthritis or worse yet, something more serious like cancer? Now you finally have an appointment to see your doctor. Will the health care professionals take you seriously? Will they use terminology that you will not be able to understand? Will you leave the doctor’s office feeling just as lost as before?
You are not alone. Many seniors and patients of all ages feel exactly the same way. Being equipped with some knowledge of how to handle this type of situation can help alleviate some of the stress and get you out of the doctor’s office feeling heard and informed.
Prepare. It can be helpful to take a moment before a doctor’s appointment to sit down and write out questions or descriptions of the symptoms you are being seen for. This will help you focus and remember important information. Don’t worry about sounding super smart or using medical terms. Ironically, when medical professionals themselves seek treatment with another provider, they often revert to colloquial terms. The most important thing is using descriptive language that will convey your concerns and feelings to the doctor quickly and accurately. For example, if you have a bruise on your hip you can describe the color or just simply say you believe it is a bruise. You don’t need to use fancy words like contusion or hematoma to get your point across. Try to focus on one issue at a time and be thorough. If you quickly brush over several things that have been bothering you all at once, it can be difficult for a doctor or medical provider to appropriately assess and address your issues. That’s why writing down some notes beforehand can help keep you on track.
Bring a family member
After your doctor’s appointment, you may have a difficult time remembering what you discussed and the information you received. This can happen to anyone regardless of age. Ask a family member to accompany you if you feel comfortable with involving them in your medical care. Family or even a friend can take notes and help keep any paperwork organized for you. Make sure you explain to them exactly how you need them to be involved beforehand.
Ask for clarification. Often medical providers will use terminology that you will not understand. Or they may talk about concepts too quickly for you to fully comprehend. It’s not that they mean to. It’s easy for providers to lose touch with commonly used language or forget that a concept could be entirely new for you as the patient. Besides, you are the one in the stressful situation, anxious to get answers. So it may be necessary to have something explained several times or in different ways. Do you like pictures or drawings to visualize things? Or perhaps you would benefit from reading more information about a certain disease process. Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for more information in a way that you can understand best. Make it clear that you do not understand. Ask, “can you repeat that for me?” “I still don’t understand. Would it be possible for you to make a drawing or show me a picture of my heart problem?”
A second opinion. If you are not quite satisfied with your diagnosis or prognosis given, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment for a second opinion. Even if your diagnosis remains unchanged, a fresh perspective may lead to further treatment options or a perspective you never would have thought of. Regardless, it can be smart to have another eye on the matter. Your health is important. Don’t allow feelings of helplessness or being a burden to others get in your way. Get assistance.
Positive mindset. When you arrive at your appointment, try to be positive about getting to the bottom of your problem. Even if you had bad experiences with doctors in the past, you’ll be better prepared this time. You’ll have your notes, a supportive family member with you, and further options for the future.
Debrief with the family member or friend you bring afterwards over coffee or lunch. Have this planned ahead of time so you have something to look forward to. This way, you’ll also not find yourself alone as you process the outcome of your doctor’s visit.