Getting the Most From Your Doctor

Dr. cheryl woodson   headshot

Dr. Cheryl Woodson

Aging Parents /

%22know which doctor to talk to%22
Know which doctor to talk to

Have you ever taken off from work to sit in a hospital, nursing home, or examination room, only to have the doctor rush in and out without answering your questions? It’s infuriating; it’s also avoidable.

Many doctors practice at several sites and have to schedule time very tightly. While we expect disruptions for health emergencies, we can’t usually accommodate unexpected family meetings. We’d never get home to see our kids! Do you drop into the office of your accountant, or attorney unannounced, expecting an in depth discussion? No, you schedule an appointment. Here’s how to do schedule a conference with a doctor.

1. Know which doctor to talk to. When many doctors provide care for your loved one, it’s difficult to know who’s who. In a nursing facility, or community hospital, the attending physician is in charge of the overall care plan, but in a hospital with medical students and residents, the senior resident will have the most information concerning your loved one.

2. Know the best way to contact your doctor. All scheduling should be made through the attending physician’s privet office, even if your loved one had never received service there. Nurses know when the doctor usually comes to a hospital or nursing home, but they can’t know about other commitments that might change, or limit the doctor’s time there. Office staff has the most reliable contact with the doctor and they know the entire schedule. Physician referral services list the doctor’s primary office information. If the receptionist cannot make a conference appointment, ask to speak to a nurse, or office manager. The doctor may arrange to meet you at a facility, but you must still schedule through the office.

3. Be prepared to pay at the conference. Ask about cost when you make the appointment, and check with your insurance plan about coverage. Doctors DO charge for the conferences, but they will expect payment at the time of the conference.  Doctors will not submit the bill to an insurance carrier, or issue a bill for families to pay later. Most health insurance companies will not reimburse for conferences. Some Medicare supplements will cover the cost, but I encourage people to check with their insurer before scheduling so they know what their financial responsibility will be.

4. Bring a list of questions. This will keep you focused. The National Patient Safety Foundation’s  ASK ME THREE programs also suggests asking the following questions:

  • What is my main problem?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Why is it important for me to do this?

I suggest asking two more:

  • By when should I do this?
  • What will happen if I don’t?


5. Bring at least one person to the conference. Even with a written list, your nerves may get the better of you. A second person can hear, or understand something you didn’t, or ask something you forgot. This person can also write down the answers, freeing you to interact with the doctor.

6. Bring ALL medicine bottles (prescription and OTC,) so you can confirm the doctor’s instructions and avoid medication errors.

7. Have a pre-conference family meeting. The conference is not a place to argue. Agree on your questions and collect the concerns of people who cannot attend. Don’t expect the doctor to follow up with individual family members. Designate one person as the primary contact.   

8. BE NICE! You can be an assertive advocate without being mean. If you believe the doctor hasn’t taken your concerns seriously, follow up with a professional letter, restating your questions. If you are still dissatisfied, or if you believe the doctor has not treated you with respect, find a new doctor.

Physicians are people, too. You will get more cooperation from us when you schedule time, are clear about what you need, have clear and specific questions for us to answer and behave professionally during all of your interactions with us. We want to help, so don’t hesitate to ask. 

About The Author
Dr. cheryl woodson   headshot

Dr. Cheryl Woodson is a professional national speaker, author, Geriatrician and caregiving advocate for seniors and their families. During 30 years of teaching and practicing Geriatrics and adult medicine, she also navigated her mother’s ten-year journey with dementia.  She encourages all adults to AGE EXCELLENTLY, and her book, TO SURVIVE CAREGIVING:  A Daughter’s Experience, A Doctor’s Advice, empowers families to give excellent eldercare without sacrificing their own health, finances, or relationships.

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