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Health Literacy for Patients
As you age, your doctor will play an increasingly important role in your life.
So how do you get the most out of each medical appointment?
WOSU reporter Christina Morgan asked doctors and pharmacists that question. They had plenty of useful tips on how to get the most out of each medical appointment, which could help cut down on doctors' visits.
Here are the doctors' orders:
Before the appointment:
- List three "key things that you want to achieve with that visit," says Dr. Gina Love-Walker. "Having a laundry-list of 10 or 15 things is counter-productive, because there's no way you can cover all those things."
- Ask a friend or family member to come with you. A second set of eyes and ears will help you think of questions for the doctor and remember what she said after the appointment.
During the visit:
- Don't be afraid to ask your doctor to slow down, or explain himself in regular language instead of medical terms. "When we go to medical school, we all speak English. When you come out, you speak some weird variant of Latin," says Dr. Jonathan Hollister. He says patients should be blunt: "'Don't understand, need some English.' If you do that enough times, the physician will eventually get it, and he'll quit Latin and start English."
- If you're uncomfortable with a doctor's advice, speak up. "If you know you're not going to take something or if you're not agreeing with something that I'm saying, you tell me know so we can talk about it in this room," says Dr. Love-Walker.
- Don't leave the doctor's office without understanding exactly what you've been prescribed, and why. Ask questions like:
- Is there a non-pharmaceutical way to deal with my health problem?
- What are the side effects of the drug you've prescribed?
- Will it interact with my other medications?
- How long will I take the medication?
- Do I take the medication with food?
- Do I take it in the morning or at bedtime?
And a good idea in general:
- Keep a list of all prescription and nonprescription drugs you currently take--including vitamins, minerals, aspirin, and ibuprofen. Carry the list around with you in case of an emergency, and bring it to medical appointments and to the pharmacy. "I love it when a guy opens his wallet or a woman opens her purse and pulls out a sheet of paper with all their drugs and their drug allergies," says pharmacist Eric Hals, who was interviewed for one of Morgan's WOSU stories. "It's just so beautiful."
Here are some more trustworthy sources for patients:
- AARP offers advice on how to talk to your doctor
- MedLine Plus, a joint venture of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, offers advice on talking to doctors about everything from cancer to bladder control. The site includes several articles in Spanish.
- The Ohio State University Medical Center offers advice on making the most of visits with your doctor. (PDF)