Here’s the thing — doctors are busy. Most are tied to insurance company standards and more rules, regulations, and paperwork than we could ever even begin to imagine.
Here’s the other thing — you’re busy. And generally speaking, if you’re in a doctor’s office, you don’t feel your best. You need help and you need it NOW.
So how do you find that happy balance between getting your questions answered and the help that you need, and keeping the doctor invested in your case?
Lucky for you, I’ve completed extensive experiential research in this department — that’s a fancy way of saying that I’ve attended more doctors’ appointments in my lifetime than I can even begin to count! So I know a few things about getting the most out of your 15 minutes. Here is a list to get you started:
- Do your homework — No, this doesn’t mean I want you to spend countless hours on WebMD trying to diagnose yourself (Scraped knee? Prepare for amputation! Sore throat? A tracheotomy is inevitable!) I want you to do your homework on the DOCTOR. Is he/she a sole-practitioner or part of a group? Is there an online portal for ease of communication? Do they take your insurance? Is the office in a convenient location for your life?
- Write down a list of questions, and star the most important ones. Make a copy of your list and when you get to your appointment, you can hand it to the doctor and go through your questions together. This is a win-win as the doctor knows your questions ahead of time, you’re guaranteed to get answers, AND the doctor has a cheat sheet when he/she writes up the office summary.
- Write down a list of any medications and/or supplements you’re taking and bring it with you. This includes pills, nose spray, eye drops, herbal remedies, etc.
- Be prepared to talk with purpose — your doctor has limited time and wants to make the most of it. Share your list of questions as soon as appropriate and be respectful of his/her time.
- Always, always, always make your last question — “When and how should I follow up?” We waste so much time as patients in the limbo of getting in touch with our doctors. If test results are forthcoming, ask when you will hear back from the doctor.
- Make sure your doctor knows who you are on a deeper level than a piece of paper. Are you hoping to avoid pharmaceutical intervention? Say so. Are you concerned about how your physical therapy might impact your overnight nursing shifts? Speak up. So often we are disappointed when our doctor recommends medical intervention that isn’t conducive to our lifestyle, and truth be told, we were expecting them to be able to read our minds.
- Write down the reason you’re in the office and the symptoms you’re having. How often have you left an appointment only to think, “I forgot to talk about x, y, and z!” Your mind can go blank or get easily distracted, so always always always write it down!
(Are you noticing a theme here? I recommend a notebook designated solely for medical purposes, so you are always guaranteed to have the information you need. Bonus points if you photocopy your insurance card and tape it to the inside cover!)
- Bring a friend! If you’re going for an annual physical or a mundane trip to the dentist, it may not feel necessary to have a sidekick, but otherwise, feel free to bring back-up. Especially with specialist appointments, it can be helpful to have a note-taker and second set of ears.
- Get. A. Second. Opinion! We don’t like to think about this, but just like anything, medicine is a PRACTICE. That means that different physicians will have different opinions, and an educated patient will gather all thoughts before making a decision. A good doctor will support and even encourage you to get another opinion, and if he/she disapproves, you’re going to want to head to the nearest exit anyway. When we don’t feel well, our ability to think logically can be altered and we are more likely to rush into medical intervention we don’t need. One time a surgeon nearly convinced me to cut out my stomach. True story!
- Lastly, it’s okay to be a squeaky wheel. Speak up if you don’t understand, ask questions, message your doctor on the portal, add the nurses’ line to speed dial — whatever it takes for you to feel safe, healthy, and happy. You’re not being annoying, you’re self-advocating and there is no more important relationship that the one you have with yourself!