10 tips to get the most out of your doctor’s visit

I don’t know about you, but for me, going to the doctor feels a bit like a task.

It’s not that I don’t like my doctor, but sometimes I feel that the little bit of time I get to discuss my health is not always enough. As a result, when I leave the doctor, I feel that things have been rushed and that not all my concerns have not been heard. And I’m pretty sure many doctors wish they could spend more time with their patients.

Recently, I came across a study showed that I am not the only one feeling like this. The study, conducted by the University of South Carolina, found that primary care doctors cut their patients off just 12 seconds after entering the examination room. Other studies have shown that the average doctor visit last just 13 to 16 minutes, during which patients get just 23 seconds on average to speak… the rest is all down to the doctor talking or doing an examination.

Now, I’m the last one to criticise doctors. I know they work hard and considering that time quotas only allow 15 minute consultations, it’s no wonder patients don’t get to speak. That’s because their doctors need to get to the bottom of the problem in just a few minutes – a near-impossible task if you ask me.

This really is a pity, for both doctors and patients. Wasn’t it Sir William Osler – often referred to as the “father of modern medicine” – who said the patient will tell you the diagnosis, if only you listen?

But with so little time to listen who can blame doctors when they get things wrong? That’s why I asked a very good doctor who’s a friend of mine for some pointers to help me prepare for my next doctor’s visit so that I can help my doctor to make the most of those 15 minutes. He gave me some really good advice that I want to share with you:

Lead the conversation: When you enter the consultation room, ask your doctors how he or she is are doing, for a change! Be friendly and polite, even if you are feeling unwell or unhappy with your medical care.

Ask for privacy: If there are other staff in the room, don’t be afraid to ask for a minute alone with the doctor, especially if you have to talk about an intimate or sensitive problem.

Know the script: Make notes about why you are seeing your doctor. Jot down bullet points with questions, or even your symptoms. Begin with the big questions, because if you leave them for last your doctor may not have enough time top pay attention to those (remember they work with strict time quotas).

Keep it medical: Using specific language like diarrhoea, incontinence, fatigue and inflammation will save your doctor the time of figuring out what you are talking about.

Honesty is the best policy: If you want your doctor to help you quickly and efficiently, be dead honest. This includes talking about your fears, sexual problems, sleeping problems, stressful relationships and even substance abuse.

Bring an advocate: This is especially important when you are seeing your doctor about a complex or potentially life changing condition. Many people shut emotionally down during medical discussions. A friend or family member will not only support you, but can also help to present your symptoms or remember exactly what the doctor said. You can even ask him or her to take notes if necessary.

Stay informed: If you are dealing with a condition you know nothing about, ask your doctor for printed materials that can help explain your diagnosis or the next steps that you need to follow in order to get better. And even more so when it comes to getting drug prescriptions.

Ask about generic drugs: When it comes to managing a chronic health condition like managing blood pressure or blood sugar, always ask your doctor about using a generic drug. Generic drugs have stood the test time to uncover all the side effects. And make sure that you are clear on the dosage.

You are in the driving seat: The minute you enter your doctor’s office, you are there on your time. Use it wisely but if your doctor won’t take time to listen to you, then you have all the right to ask for a different doctor.

I hope these tips will help you and your doctor get the most out of your next visit.

To a healthier life,

Thomas Smith