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On Call: Making the Most of Your Doctor Visit

Thu, 06/24/2021 - 10:12

It almost goes without saying that time management can be very tricky, especially in what can be high-stakes, high-stress situations like trips to the doctor. To a certain degree, delays and wait times are simply an inherent aspect of modern health care, where unexpected emergencies, requests, and the seemingly omnipresent computer errors can make a 15 or 20-minute doctor's visit seem a near-mythical entity.

But there are some things that can help mitigate these issues, chief among them empathy, both on the doctor's part for understanding the concerns a patient may have about time issues such as lengthy waits (which I've written about previously) as well as on the patient's part. This is not to suggest that the entire onus for making the situation better is on the patient, but instead that the ideal patient-doctor relationship is a partnership of sorts, and there are a number of things patients can do to prepare for their visits that will help both sides get what they are looking for out of the experience.

For example, patients should write a list of questions or concerns and take it with them to their visits. This may seem simplistic, but it addresses several key issues. First, it helps lay out the patient's agenda for the visit, which is vital to the physician's understanding where concerns and fears lie. Second, if a patient comes in with a very long list of questions, then the physician can make clear from the outset that there is only so much time allotted for the visit, and both doctor and patient can work on a strategy for making sure these questions are answered.

Health care is immensely complicated at times, and there are only so many minutes in the day. Finding a means both to make sure all of a given patient's concerns are addressed while still making sure the time allotted to other patients is not unfairly infringed upon is one of the hardest balancing acts that health care providers are asked to accomplish, and delineating clear expectations from the start of the visit can work wonders in this regard.

I also advise patients to review their medication list before they come to the office so they know about any prescriptions that need to be refilled ahead of time and so the office can make sure their prescrip-tions match what's on their medication list. One time-honored way of achieving this is to simply take your prescription bottles to the visit.

Next, patients should make a practice of understanding clearly what the plan is as they leave the visit. Many patients take notes as I talk to them in the office, which I think is an excellent approach. Other patients are willing to wait the extra five or 10 minutes at the end of the visit for me to write down my thoughts as to what is going on if the complaint is an acute one, and detail the plan moving forward. I am all too happy to do so (unless a very ill patient is waiting in the next room), and I have found that this drastically cuts down on confusion moving forward.

Last, patients should ask their doctors about the easiest way to ask questions or get clarification between visits. Some physicians strongly prefer that patients call and talk to the nurse or physician if there are any questions, while others prefer email or communication via their offices' electronic medical records system, which often have a feature that allows for direct communication with patients. Obviously, we often think of questions or information after the fact that is pertinent, and having a clear plan for communicating this can be of enormous benefit.

These suggestions can go a long way toward empowering patients to engage more directly in what is often a one-way road of communication with their health care provider. For some patients, that, in and of itself, may make the difference between the status quo that disappoints them and a healthier, happier relationship with their providers.

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