By Donna Smith at Capital Healthcare Advocates
Conversations in a doctor’s office are often among the most important and stressful you can have. Yet, examination rooms are rarely the setting for clear thinking and comprehensive discussions. After waiting with fussy children or calming your own nerves, most doctors will only spend about 15 minutes on the entire visit, including the exam. Some of the remaining time is taken up with the doctor entering information into a computer.
Doctors are often as frustrated as patients with the limited time allotted for each patient visit. Here are six things you can do to make the time as productive as possible for you and the doctor.
1. Know what you want to learn or get from the visit before you go. In other words, know the one or two main things you need to understand when you walk out of that office. Are you not sure if what seems to be a minor problem is something worse? Need relief from pain? Antibiotics are not helping? General check-up? Knowing what you want helps you better prepare for the visit and communicate clearly when you are in the doctor’s office. Try to keep your reason to a couple of sentences, otherwise you may never get to your questions.
2. Write down your questions before the visit. This goes hand-in-glove with #1. If you know what you want to learn or understand, it will be easier to write down all of the questions you want answered. Unless someone is going with you to take notes, keep the list of questions and a pen with you during the visit. Be prepared to add questions to the list as your doctor gives you information during the visit.
3. Bring a current list of medications and note any changes. If any medications are no longer being taken, present new side-effects, or do not seem to be working, make that note on your medication list. Give the doctor your list and explain the changes.
4. Be direct. Neither you nor the doctor have much time for the social niceties that often accompany a conversation. This is one of those times when a pleasant greeting can be immediately followed by the business at hand. As succinctly as possible, state your reason for the visit (#1 above), then start asking your questions (#2 above).
5. Don’t let yourself be interrupted. Studies have found that patients speak an average of just 12 to 18 seconds before being interrupted by the doctor. You ask your children not to interrupt. Be prepared to say the same to your doctor. You will not get what you need from the visit if you are unable to state the reason for the appointment and ask your questions.
6. If you do not understand an answer, ask your doctor to repeat it in a different way. Your doctor lives in a world of medical-speak. You do not. If you did not hear the answer or do not understand it, ask the doctor to give you the answer again in a different way. Use this active listening technique to make sure you understand the answer correctly: “What I hear you saying is…..” Don’t be shy or embarrassed to speak up. If your auto mechanic’s explanation of a fuel injector problem did not make sense, you would ask for clarification. Do not hesitate to do the same with your doctor.
Finally, remember that you and your doctor are working towards the same goal of keeping you and your family healthy. These six steps will help you both reach that goal.