By Aydrian L. Thomas, M.D.
These days, a visit to your doctor can be a harrowing experience. With time constraints on the part of both the patient and the provider, issues with insurance coverage, prior authorizations and the like, getting the care you desire can be a challenge. What follows are some ways to make the most of your visit to the doctor.
1. Plan ahead. Just like a camping trip or a visit to the state museum, how you plan your doctor’s visit can determine whether it is a wonderful experience or a horrible one. Here are some things to consider.
a. Have your I.D. and proof of insurance accessible. This means the required documents should be within reach, without rummaging through your purse or wallet.
b. If you are new to the office, prepare the paperwork ahead of time. This can be accomplished by arriving 30 to 45 early or requesting the forms well in advance and completing them before the appointment day.
c. Wear comfortable clothing. I know it is tradition to dress well for your office appointment, but sometimes the leather body suits and dozens of necklaces can interfere with your examination or cause a delay in your exam while you remove these items. Moreover, wearing uncomfortably tight or ill-fitting clothing can make mere minutes seem like hours. From the doctor’s perspective, excessive jewelry, numerous layers of clothing and long, flowing hair can interfere with our ability to examine you adequately. Keep it simple whenever possible.
d. Plan to wait. We as providers know that our patients do not like to wait. We do not want them to wait either; but healthcare is such an unpredictable field that delays will inevitably occur. Just keep in mind that if you come in with an issue that requires a little extra time, you will receive it just as the person before you did. So prepare your entertainment in advance. Why not bring that book you have been planning to read? Maybe you can balance your checkbook or bring some word puzzles. Just be mindful of the office policy on electronic devices before pulling out your phone.
2. Organize your concerns. One of our biggest delays in the office setting comes as the last minute statement, “Oh, by the way, I have been having chest pain.” Of course, we cannot ignore statements like these, so the visit takes longer and other patients are forced to wait. Alternatively, the visit goes much smoother when your concerns are organized either by order of importance to you or by the seriousness of the symptoms. (For the record, chest pain should register high on this list.)
3. Keep it reasonable. I know co-pays and deductibles are high, but try to resist the urge to show up at your doctor’s office with 26 different symptoms and 19 concerns and expect them to be covered in one visit. We will try to accommodate the most important ones, but remember: the average office visit lasts 12 minutes, including writing prescriptions and arranging future appointments. Allow us a chance to devote adequate time to each concern by keeping them to a minimum.
4. Bring your medications. It is a vitally important practice to bring your medications. Frequently, we discover duplications in medications, drug interactions and dispensing errors by simply reviewing what you take every day. Telling us that “that little white pill” makes you dizzy is not enough information. We need to see the prescription bottles. If your medication requires refrigeration or is not practical to transport (such as nebulizer solutions or injectables) write down the name, strength and the way you take it or bring a container with the label affixed. Beyond obtaining an accurate medication list, reviewing these meds can help us anticipate the need for refills and discover expired medications. If you prefer to carry a medication list instead, please include the strength and directions. Be sure to include inhalers, creams, ointments, eye drops and over-the-counter or herbal preparations.
5. Clarify your concerns. I must admit, in the course of a single office visit, we healthcare providers can bombard you with information. We often use technical jargon and employ complex decision-making processes that might leave you unclear about our assessment. Never hesitate to interject with a simple, “what exactly do I have, Doc?” Ask if there are patient information resources or websites which can help you learn more about your diagnosis or treatment. And always seek clarity if the treatment plan is unclear. After all, the game does not go well unless all players know the strategy.
6. Be your own advocate. Sometimes healthcare providers fail to remind you that they are human. In the course of discussing your knee pain, we may fail to recognize that it is time to recheck your thyroid hormone level or schedule your mammogram. If it occurs to you, then you should mention it to us. Sometimes it may be a simple oversight. Other times it could be that we have chosen to delay the testing to another time. Either way, a simple reminder will prompt us to clarify the treatment plan so that we are both on the same page.
7. Spread the courtesy contagion. We have all heard that courtesy is contagious, so do your part to spread the bug by cooperating with the personnel and avoiding disruptive behavior. Resist the urge to invite all of your friends and family into the exam room or build a fort with the tongue depressors. Try not to shove past the old lady in the hallway or make long distance or international calls on the waiting room courtesy phone. Remember: if it would get you kicked out of a movie theater, it is probably not appropriate for a medical office.
Finally, please keep in mind that we in healthcare, one of the last noble professions, are genuinely concerned about you. Help us to do our best to make the most of your experience, and we will look forward to seeing you next time.
Dr. Aydrian Thomas is board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine. He is a family physician practicing in York, South Carolina, For more information log on to www.urbanhousecallmagazine.com
This column was printed in the December 5, 2010 - December 18, 2010 edition.