How To Improve an Older Adult's Medical Appointments



Communicating with Health Professionals


Solutions for improving communications with health professionals include:

  • Listing questions for health professionals

  • Asking about anything that's not clear

  • Giving health professionals respectful feedback

  • Finding health professionals who work well with the older adult

Before medical appointments, ask what questions and concerns the older adult wants to discuss, including:

  • Symptoms, such as pain, dizziness or vision changes

  • Changes with appetite, mood, sleep or physical activity

  • Problems taking medications or with side effects

  • Difficulty meeting daily needs

  • Questions about treatment options

  • Ways to improve health and prevent problems

If you have questions, add them to the list. Ask the older adult which three questions are most important. Circle them and make sure the older adult or you ask them early in the appointment, so you have time to discuss them. Bring the list to the appointment. If the older adult wants to focus on one topic, tell the health professional's office before the appointment. If the older adult and you have many questions, ask if you can schedule a longer appointment.


Appointment time is limited. If you don't have time to discuss important questions, ask if you can schedule a phone call or follow-up appointment. Don't expect any one health professional to have all the answers. Ask if they can recommend specialists, programs or other resources to address the older adult's concern.


Always tell health professionals if something is not clear to the older adult or you. It can help to:

  • Ask the professional to explain more fully or to use different words

  • Say what you think the professional meant and ask if you missed anything

  • Ask for written or visual descriptions

  • Ask what the older adult or you should do, based on what the professional said

  • Ask what is new or different, and how that affects the older adult

Ask health professionals:

  • If the professional is giving the older adult new recommendations or diagnoses.

  • What lab or other tests are for and when the older adult will get test results.

  • If the older adult needs follow-up tests or appointments.

  • If the older adult is getting new medications or changes to prescriptions.

  • The benefits and risks of different treatment options.

If the health professional doesn't speak the older adult's language, ask the office for a medical interpreter before the appointment.


Encourage the older adult to tell health professionals what they appreciate. For example, the older adult or you might want to ask health professionals to:

  • Use the name that the older adult prefers to be called

  • Look at the older adult when talking to them

  • Encourage the older adult to ask questions

  • Explain how you or others can support the older adult's health

  • Understand that the older adult's beliefs or practices might affect treatment decisions

Respectfully share any concerns with the health professional. Tell professionals if the older adult or you feel rushed, worried or uncomfortable. When you give health professionals feedback, try to be specific and positive. Health professionals work in settings and follow rules that are often out of control.


If the older adult is looking for a new health professional, ask the older adult what is important:

  • Office hours and location

  • Experience with particular conditions and treatments

  • Association with a certain hospital or provider network

  • Team care that can include physicians, nurses, pharmacists, social workers or dieticians

  • Gender or language

Ask friends, relatives and other professionals which health professionals they suggest and why. Start a list of potential health professionals for the older adult. Look them up online. Contact local or state medical societies to check if complaints have been filed against them. Ask the older adult to narrow down the list. Ask what would make the older adult choose one health provider over others. For example, does the older adult want a health professional who:

  • Focuses on older adult health or has many older patients

  • Welcomes family involvement in care decisions

  • Listens carefully to patients

  • Makes it easy to ask questions between appointments

Call each health professional's office. Ask if they're accepting new patients. If they are, ask the office about what's most important to the older adult. Add the information to your list of health professionals. Based on this information, the older adult can decide who to make an appointment with. After the appointment, ask the older adult if the health professional listened to them, explained things clearly and gave the older adult time to ask questions.


Summary: Improving Medical Appointments

  • Deciding on roles and responsibilities, including

How the older adult will get there

Who will accompany the older adult

Who will take notes during the visit

  • Gathering information that may help the provider, such as

A list of the older adult’s medications, vitamins, and supplements

Insurance information

A list of other providers the older adult sees

Legal documents related to healthcare decisions

  • Making a list of questions and concerns before the visit, such as

New symptoms like dizziness or hearing changes

Changes in appetite

Medication side-effects

  • Speaking up when something is not clear. It may help to

Summarize what you think you heard and ask if it’s correct

Ask for written descriptions

Ask the professional to explain using different words

  • Making note of next steps, which may be

Scheduling a follow-up appointment

Getting lab results

Visiting a specialist

Making adjustments at home


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