6 Steps to Getting the Most Out of Your Doctor's Visit

December 15, 2019

"You can’t control your doctor’s bedside manner, but you do have some control over how the dialogue goes."

Most people don’t like going to see the doctor, and that’s understandable. Usually if you’re there, you’re dealing with a health concern or illness, and the circumstances are not the best. But in today’s show, Dr. Keller Wortham, MD, wants to take a closer look at how to make doctor’s visits better for everyone. He’ll talk about some of the issues that arise for many patients, and some steps you can take to get the most out of your doctor’s visit.

Video Highlights

  • 00:56: Why Don’t We Like Doctor’s Visits?
  • 02:54: Be Organized
  • 05:41: Prioritize
  • 07:19: Be Specific
  • 09:52: Be Prepared
  • 13:20: Avoid Question Grenades
  • 14:29: Be Sympathetic
  • 15:21: Wrap-Up

Why Don’t We Like Doctor’s Visits?

This is the first and most important question. Are there reasons that you don't like going to see your doctor that maybe you or your doctor have some control over? Do you find that you feel frustrated by your visit? Maybe you feel the doctor is rushed or the visit is rushed? Maybe you don't get to answer all the questions that you had or maybe you're confused by the answers that are given to you? 

These are all issues certainly come up for a lot of patients. Or maybe you are just not a fan of your doctor’s bedside manner — each doctor has a different style, and some may be more difficult to engage with. While changing doctors is sometimes an option, sometimes it’s not. You can’t control your doctor’s bedside manner, but you do have some control over how the dialogue goes. Some of the strategies we’ll go over in this article should help with that.

Six Tips For Maximizing Your Doctor Visit

Be Organized 

This is a very important strategy. It helps you, it helps your doctor, and it is really fundamental to getting the most out of your doctor's visit. When we talk about being organized, it may be easiest to think in terms of objectives. What is your objective for going to see a doctor? Is it because something new has come up? Something's ailing you or you have a new pain? Is it a follow-up on a particular illness that you've been treating? Is it about a certain change in lifestyle? A symptom that you've noticed? Make sure you’re very clear in your own mind about what your objective is for going to the doctor that time. 

It may be the case that you don’t have a specific objective, and are just showing up because your doctor requested a follow-up, but it is important to know if you've got things on your list that you address them with your doctor head-on. And the best way to clarify your objectives, I think is to write them down. Some doctors will ask you what you’ve come to them for, which opens the door for you to verbalize your objectives, but not all doctors will do that. 

That being the case, it’s a good practice to make a list of what your objectives are and keep in mind that your doctor has his own list of objectives which might be totally different from yours. Maybe it's related to something that you don't know about, such as new test information that has come back. Or, due to a difference in medical knowledge there might be things that are important on his or her list that did not make your list. But it’s still helpful to start out with a list of your own objectives, and then you can certainly ask, “Doctor, what is our mission for the visit today as far as you see it?” 

By understanding your own objectives, hopefully you can make sure that your questions are at least addressed. Again, the best way to make this happen is to write your questions and objectives down so that you don’t forget anything while you’re there. 

Prioritize

You may go into your doctor’s office with a long list of questions, so decide ahead of time which ones are more important than others. If you end up with a list that's ten or fifteen items long, it may not be possible to address them all. Especially in the current healthcare environment, a lot of doctors are rushed and may only have 15 minutes to see a patient for a return visit. There's such a demand especially in primary care, that doctors are forced to move patients through fairly quickly. So, if you have a very long list of things that you want to go over, you might end up getting less time per item on your list. Prioritize your list ahead of time to make sure the things that are most important to you are addressed at the beginning of the visit while there's still time. 

Now, it's okay when you come in to say, “Hey, Doc. Here's the list of all the things that I really want to go over today” and look at the list together with your doctor. This may help you prioritize, as your doctor may say, “Oh yes, these are important and we should discuss them.” And he or she may look at other items and say, “We might not have time for these today, can we go over them next time?” And that dialogue also allows you to voice your concerns regarding your top priorities and get feedback from your doctor on which items on your list deserve the most attention (maybe because they're critical, or they could potentially be an indication of something more dangerous). 

Be Specific

Specificity is key in medicine. Medicine is a little bit like detective work. Your doctor may be trying to figure out a disease, or trying to put symptoms together, so that they can walk down the right way of figuring out what the issue might be. And the more time you as the patient dedicate to reflecting on your symptoms and being specific about what it is you're experiencing, the more efficient that diagnosis can be. For example, if you’re talking about symptoms, be really be specific about when it started and how long it's been going on; whether it’s getting worse or better, or if you’re experiencing it constantly or intermittently.

Are there other things that you've associated with it, such as changes in your lifestyle or changes in your sleep patterns? Have there been changes in a medication that you're taking? All these details can help inform your doctor about what's going on. If it's a particular pain or something that you perceive as unpleasant, you can talk about things that might make it better or worse. Also, think about how to describe your pain and give it a quality: is it throbbing? Is it burning? Is it radiating? You can give it an intensity: on a scale of one to ten, how painful is it? 

So, again, your doctor can guide you through these questions and the symptoms you’re experiencing. But the more time you've spent in advance reflecting on the specifics of a particular item on your list, the better it's going to be for you and your doctor to work toward a solution together. Every condition will have its own parameters that you want to explore. But in general, being aware of when it started, how long it's been going on, and what other things are associated with it will be very informative to your doctor. That will help guide you both on the path to determining what's going on. 

Be Prepared

Obviously some of the things we’ve already discussed are part of preparation. Preparation involves coming in with your objectives and questions written down and prioritized, and reflecting on the issues and symptoms you’re experiencing.

There are also some other preparation steps you can take before your visit that can be really helpful. For example, if you're dealing with a specific illness or condition, you can do some research about it. Contrary to popular belief, most doctors are not turned off or offended by someone Googling their illness of their symptoms. There's a lot of valuable information out there, which might prompt you to ask your doctor specific questions. So, for example, if you've got a thyroid condition, Googling symptoms might inspire you to ask questions like: What's the probable cause of it? What are my treatment options? What are some side effects I might experience from my medications? Or you might read about other things that you are experiencing, so you can volunteer to your doctor, “I read about thyroid conditions and I noticed that I am feeling really fatigued, or really sluggish, or I am feeling very cold, or experiencing constipation”.

So, doing a little bit of research on your own before you get to your doctor can be really helpful and can propel that visit to a more efficient pace and help you get more accomplished in that very limited amount of time. Another helpful thing you can do to prepare is consider and write down a list of relevant factors: your family history, and what diseases might be in your family or who had them, your personal history, what medical conditions you've had in the past, your allergies, and then your medications. 

Now, most doctors will have all this information within your chart but it's really important for you to have it too. It will help you make sure you're on the same page, especially when it comes to medications. Keep in mind that multiple doctors could be prescribing you medications and in an ideal world every doctor knows what the other one is doing, but that's often not the case. You as the patient know what pills are in your medicine cabinet, and which ones you might be taking — so make sure that you have a list in your wallet of not only the medications, but the dose and the frequency with which you take it. If there are inconsistencies, you can clear them up with your doctor. It could be that a medication got changed by one doctor and the other didn't know. So, having all your health history and current health situation written down is a great way to make sure you’ll be able to convey everything clearly and concisely. 

Avoid Question Grenades

A “question grenade” might be a last-minute issue you bring up at the end of a visit. So you've spent all this time going over things, and as the doctor is walking out the door you say, “Oh I forgot, one last thing,” and then you bring it up. Keep in mind that as doctors are often trying to allocate their time based on the situations and concerns that have been brought up by the patient. If you bring up something new at the end of the visit, it may not get the attention it deserves, because there’s no time left to address it. Or there might be a perception that it wasn't that important to you because you brought it up last, even if that perception isn’t correct. 

Now, if you are making that list of questions and concerns in advance, chances are you won't forget that last thing, and all your issues will be addressed.

Be Sympathetic

Keep in mind that doctors are people too. They have bad days, and rushed days. While they are usually trying their best to fulfill their oaths, they are fallible humans. It could be that they’ve had a really stressful morning with other patients. Maybe another patient ran late or a visit got very complicated and now they’re trying to make up for lost time. It could be that they’re having a terrible day at home with their own families. But keeping in mind that doctors are humans too can go a long way toward helping your relationship with your doctor. 

Wrap-Up

Try to implement those six steps to getting the most out of your doctor's visit: 

  • Be organized, make your lists
  • Prioritize your lists 
  • Be specific about the things that you need and specific to your condition or your symptoms
  • Be prepared — do your research and have your past medical history, medications, and symptoms written down so it's very easy to access. 
  • Try to avoid last-minute question grenades that might leave you shortchanged. 
  • Be sympathetic and hopefully, your relationship with your doctor can then blossom and cultivate a really good two-way street so that you can get the most out of your visit. 

We hope this was helpful, and your next doctor’s visit goes great!

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