Do you find that you leave your doctors appointment frustrated because you didn’t get to ask all your questions? Or did you forget to ask the most important question? Maybe you ran out of time and didn’t get to deal with all the concerns you had. This is a common problem. But it is not one that is without solution. Most doctor appointments are scheduled every fifteen minutes (unless your doctor is a Direct Primary Care doctor — those visits are usually 30 minutes). That means by the time your doctor gets in the room and gets set up you have a maximum of about 10 minutes to discuss your issue, do an exam, formulate a plan, and answer questions. Follow these tips to get the most out of your visits.
- When you call to make your appointment make sure to tell the receptionist the reason for your appointment. We like to know what you are coming to discuss so we can put your appointment in the best place for good patient flow. When the receptionist asks questions, he or she is doing what we have asked him/her to do to make our days run smoothly.
- If you are a new patient it is really helpful to bring a brief one page medical history with your list of diagnoses, previous surgeries, medications, and any other brief details you want the doctor to know. You don’t need to bring your full chart, but just some brief information.
- Bring all your medications. That includes any herbal supplements and vitamins that you are taking. At a bare minimum, bring a list of your medications. Patients frequently think the doctor’s office has a list, but that list is not as current as patients think. A specialist may have added a medication we didn’t know about. You may have had a problem with a medication and stopped it without telling the doctor. Maybe a medication prescribed was too expensive and it was never actually started. It is so helpful to have the accurate list. This is a big time saver.
- When the nurse brings you into the room, make sure to tell her why you are coming. Unfortunately, the receptionist can’t list everything you told her on the phone and it is really helpful to make sure the nurse knows too. This helps the doctor to plan your visit so that you can properly address as many of your concerns as possible. If you want to discuss three things be sure the nurse knows all of them.
- Come for regularly scheduled physicals. Be willing to talk to your doctor about your health maintenance. Many people feel it is helpful to bring all their questions to their physical. Unfortunately, this often ends up cutting into the time your doctor needs to address your wellness. This wellness visit is the time for you to discuss your diet, exercise regimen, and other healthy habits. It also gives your doctor time to make sure you are up to date on all your screening and immunization and labs. If you come with a long list of questions, those things might get missed and they are so important. I especially enjoy counseling my patients on these wellness issues that can help them to avoid the need for more medications.
- Try not to store up too many problems. It is possible to address one or two concerns at a visit, but if you try to do too many more, it is really hard for the doctor to adequately address each one with the attention it deserves. If you are a Direct Primary Care patient that is no problem. Your visit is longer you can do as many visits as needed at no extra charge. You doctor really isn’t asking you to come back just to make more money. We really want to adequately deal with all your concerns but it just takes time and lots of thought.
- Avoid doorknob questions. Those are the ones you want to ask but wait until the doctor has her hand on the doorknob to leave the room. I see patients do this a lot when the question is uncomfortable to ask. Don’t be shy. Ask those questions upfront. Doctors plan the visit out according to the concerns you have at the beginning of the visit so we can give your concerns as much time as possible. If we get an important question on the way out the door it is really hard to do a good job with it. Our next patient is waiting but we don’t want to skip out on your problem. I can tell you many times the patient saved the most pressing issue to the end and it scares me to think of how easy it would be to miss something really important. I’ve had doorknob questions that turned out to be heart attacks, testicular cancer, blood clots, and other serious issues. We care about your safety. and we don’t want to miss something. But that next patient is waiting too. Don’t take a chance that we don’t get to your most important questions.
- Be ready to have a conversation. I always try to give my patients the opportunity to be a part of the decision making process. I like to give options if there are multiple ways to address an issue. If you have opinions about your care don’t be afraid to say so. And don’t be afraid to say if you don’t think you can do what your doctor is asking. We would rather know right up front and come up with an alternate plan.
- Make sure you understand the plan. Listen carefully and let your doctor know if you have questions. Make sure to let the doctor know if you need a 30, 60, or 90 day supply of your medication before they send it to the pharmacy.
- Ask when you should follow up. Often I get so caught up in finishing the visit I neglect to tell patients when to follow up. Again, we don’t want to take all your money. We know that following up encourages patients to be more compliant. It also give patients a chance to ask more questions. It lets the doctor make sure you get the labs and follow up you need. Again, if you are lucky enough to belong to a direct primary care, your visits are free so make that follow up as soon as you need it.!
Your relationship with your doctor is one of the most important relationships in your life. If that is really important to you, consider joining a Direct Primary Care where the doctor only has a few hundred patients instead of thousands, where they have more time to spend with you. Either way, it is important to do everything you can to bring organization and honesty to your appointment. When I have patients who enjoy that relationship and value my opinions it keeps me energized as a doctor and passionate about my job. The more active role you take in your healthcare, the more satisfied you will be with your care. Have a great day and help make your doctor’s day!