You know the drill. You go to the doctor’s office for your yearly check-up. You wait in the appropriately named “waiting room” for an hour and a half past your scheduled appointment time. The medical assistant pops her head out the door and FINALLY calls your name. You plop your magazine down, walk through the door, make a quick stop at the dreaded scales, and are escorted into a tiny cold room. The M.A. checks your blood pressure, and maybe your pulse and temperature and then quickly shuffles out of the room muttering “the doctor will be with you shortly”. So you wait patiently (or not so patiently)… again..for another thirty minutes or so. While you’re waiting you glance around the room at the various informational packets and latest studies on why you should be on a statin if your total cholesterol is over 200 (ugghhh). All of a sudden you’re startled when the doctor abruptly walks in (Oh yeah, that’s right…I was waiting for the doctor). He asks how you’re feeling while simultaneously listening to your heart and lungs (he’s an amazing multi-tasker). “Mmm hmm. Yep. Okay. Everything looks fine here. If you don’t have any other concerns I’ll see you next year. Okay great have a nice day then!” and walks out. HUH! Wait! What just happened? Was that a drive-by check-up? Did I seriously just spend my entire afternoon waiting for that?
I think most of us have probably experienced this kind of appointment or one similar to it at some point, and it can be very frustrating. You go in thinking you’re finally going to talk to your doctor about that pesky mole you have on your back or that chronic nagging knee pain and before you know it, the doctor came and went and you didn’t discuss any of your concerns! Alright I’m not suggesting that all doctors are like this. I’ve had experiences like this one (obviously) and I’ve had wonderful experiences where I left feeling like I got to discuss my health concerns and the doctor really listened to me, actually cared about what I was saying, and took his or her time with my appointment. Finding a doctor who makes you feel like they care and learning to make the most of your appointments is very important to a satisfying doctor-patient relationship. I think it most certainly helps that I’m a nurse so I’ve gotten to spend quite a bit of time talking to various doctors in a clinical and hospital setting. I’ve picked up some tips along the way on how you can plan ahead to get the most out of your doctor visits!
1) Try To Get The FIRST Appointment Of The Day!
So this one is kind of a no-brainer for me. For one thing, don’t you want to just get it out of the way for the day? I don’t really know anybody who enjoys going to the doctor (okay actually I do but that’s a different post for a different day). Anyhow, try to get the first appointment of the day, and if you cannot get that, go for the first appointment back after lunch. First thing in the morning they should be running on schedule. If you schedule an appointment for 10 AM or 3 PM it’s highly likely that somewhere along the line they’ve gotten behind. Also, when you go early, your doctor is fresh! He’s more likely to be able to focus on you and not be distracted by his growling stomach or the fact that he’s just exhausted and ready to pack it in for the day! Doctors are not superheroes (although some may think they are). They’re people too and taking care of others all day can be draining!
2) Make A LIST Of Everything You Want To Discuss!
You know how it happens. You go in wanting to discuss something that felt very important to you at the time, but when you finally get face-to-face with your doctor you forget what it was you wanted to talk about! So I suggest you make a list. Now I’m not suggesting that you write down that strange pain you had in your left pinky toe a few months back. That’s how the doctor gets behind in the first place! Keep it concise. In a perfect world, your doctor would have time to address every ache and pain you have, but in this world where keeping up with mountains of paperwork in order to avoid litigation consumes hours upon hours of their time, they simply do not have two hours to spend with every patient. Sad but true. Write down those things that are of greatest importance and address them first, and maybe if you catch him in a great mood and he has the time, you’ll get to talk about that pinky toe afterall.
3) Bring A FRIEND Along!
If you can, bring a friend! A spouse, a granddaughter, a nephew- anyone you trust and feel comfortable sharing your personal medical information with who is willing to come with you! And don’t just bring them and leave them in the waiting room. The point is to actually bring them back to the room with you! A patient advocate is extremely important. Sometimes it can be very difficult to comprehend the information your doctor is giving you. They use words that are everyday vocabulary for them, but may forget that it all sounds like Mandarin to you! If there are two of you there, you have doubled your chances that you will leave with a clearer understanding of the conversation you just had. Often times at appointments your doctor is giving you medication instructions or discussing disease processes and it can be extremely overwhelming and nearly impossible to absorb all at one time. Having that extra person there to listen and discuss it with later can be hugely beneficial! And if that person you bring happens to have a bit of a medical knowledge, that’s a major bonus! But not imperative.
4) Keep Your OWN Medical Record!
I know this sounds a bit anal, but I can tell you that as an ER nurse, it was always very refreshing when people actually had some knowledge of their medical history, what medications they were taking (and actually knew why they were taking them), what tests and surgeries they had, and what their normal or “baseline” vitals were. The really organized patients actually had it written down! Trust me when I say this makes it exponentially easier and more time efficient for both you and your physician when you don’t have to sit and ponder the last time you had a colonoscopy! I’m not suggesting that you go and request all of your lab tests and MRI reports. What I am saying is that it is prudent to have written down your significant- key word is significant medical history, medications you’re taking (and why if you cannot remember), and recent tests or surgeries. Bring that notebook with you to your appointment. When the medical assistant or nurse takes your vital signs, ask what the values were and write them down in your notebook. It is important to know what is normal for you, or your baseline, so that you know when something is abnormal. When you leave the appointment, talk it over with that friend your brought, and write down how the appointment went and what you discussed with your physician. Record any medication changes, and anything else noteworthy specific to that appointment. As I said, I know this may appear a bit anal, but nobody is responsible for your health except for you- not even your doctor!
5) If You Feel Like You Are Getting The BRUSH-OFF, Find A New Doctor!
I don’t advocate “doctor-shopping” (a.k.a. habitually switching or seeing different doctors until you find one that tells you what you want to hear). However, if you try all of these things and you still feel like you are not able to form any kind of functional doctor-patient relationship, it may be time to look elsewhere. This does not mean that this particular physician is not perfectly competent. He or she is probably a great physician- for someone else. You are not going to “click” with every doctor, just as you don’t “click” with everyone person! However it is imperative to find a physician you can develop a working relationship with and that you trust. The point of having a primary care physician is so they he can get to know you and your history and can help manage your overall health. Notice I said help. It is still your responsibility to take care of your own health!
So next time you have to go in for that yearly check-up, or any doctor appointment for that matter, consider these tips. Plan ahead! It will save you and your doctor precious time!