How to Help at a Loved One's Doctor's Appointment

As your parents get older, they will probably be spending more time with doctors. And while they may insist that they're perfectly independent and able to get themselves to and from appointments, you should consider accompanying them, at least some of the time.

In fact, a recent study at Johns Hopkins University found that Medicare beneficiaries who were accompanied to their medical appointments were more satisfied with their visits than those who went alone. How can you make the most of your companionship, beyond just being a driver?

  • Schedule appointments and fill out forms. Your help can begin even before the day of the appointment. Since research has shown that many elderly patients never schedule necessary appointments, whether due to forgetfulness or anxiety, that job can fall to you. Make the appointment yourself. If it's already been made, call the doctor's office to confirm the date and time. Have the necessary forms sent directly to you, or download them from the doctor's web site and fill them out before the day of the appointment. This gives you time to double-check the answers to questions. You should take responsibility for bringing the forms with you on the day of the appointment, or you might even mail the forms back to the doctor a week ahead.
  • Keep a symptom log. If your parent is having specific symptoms, make sure to write them down, including dates and times. This makes it much easier for the doctor to discern exactly what is going on.
  • Bring pen and paper into the exam room. Since all patients hear only about half of what a doctor says during a visit, it's up to you to be the second pair of ears, especially for an elderly person. Ask questions and take plenty of notes on your parent's behalf. This way, your parent will be able to refer back to what was discussed once he or she is back home. Having the information on hand will mean your parent is more likely to comply with his or her necessary treatment plan.
  • Ask the doctor to slow down. If you don't understand something, have him or her repeat it. Repeat it for your parent, if necessary. Doctors sometimes speak quickly and use medical terminology that isn't easily understood. Remind your parent that it's his or her right to understand what is happening and to get the proper treatment.



Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health