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How to Get More Out of Your Next Doctor Visit

by Dr. Mayer Horensten

Dr. Mayer L. Horensten - How to Get More Out of Your Next Doctor Visit

For many people, a visit to their doctor's office is an occasion for heightened stress and anxiety. It certainly doesn't need to be this way. Being prepared ahead of time for your consultation will significantly reduce stress and save time for both you, the patient, and the physician. The following are some suggestions to help you make the most of your visit.

  • Call ahead to obtain much time saving information. Check with the receptionist on what insurance and billing information you should bring to complete the all important paperwork.
  • If you need to update your important medical information such as blood tests or cholesterol levels or if you need chemistry panels, ask if these can be administered when you come in for your appointment. You may be able to eliminate the need for an additional visit on another morning when you could be playing golf or sleeping in.
  • Inquire about how closely the physician sticks to his or her schedule and whether unexpected emergencies are common.
  • Take some reading material in case of any delay. Your time will be put to good use, the wait will pass more quickly, and you'll be less likely to get frazzled trying to distract yourself with the ancient magazines found in waiting areas.
  • In most practices, doctors are under the gun to see more patients per day and, especially in managed care settings, a patient may be scheduled every 10 or 15 minutes. To get the most out of your office visit, be prepared to present your concerns and problems in a concise, well-thought- out manner. For example, if you have been experiencing chest pain, describe in your own words what it feels like. It could be a sharp pain, a feeling of pressure, or a burning sensation, to list some of the more commonly used adjectives. How long does the pain last; minutes, hours, or days? How long has it been bothersome; days, weeks or months? What brings relief of the pain; antacids, rest, belching, or eating? Does the pain travel or move about through to your back, down your arm, or up into your neck? Is it constant or intermittent? In a brief summary prepared prior to your office visit, you might describe your chief complaint as: "A pressure-like sensation that started about 10 days ago while I was mowing the lawn. It went down my left arm and was relieved when I stopped the mower. It also reccurs when I carry out the weekly trash." With the time saved by such a summary, your doctor will have more time to focus on any additional questions you might have and to discuss more fully with you any necessary tests or studies that would be helpful.
  • Since some patients become nervous or forgetful in the doctor's office, it is a good idea to write down any questions that might skip your mind. Give them to the nurse when you first come in and the doctor can then decide which are of higher priority for discussion and attention during your visit. Nothing is more frustrating for the clinician who thinks the patient's major complaints have been covered than to have the patient then bring up a concern of a critical nature that must be addressed. Well intended efforts by the physician and the staff to stay on schedule are then broadsided resulting in increased anxiety and stress for the doctor and a perception of being rushed by the patient.
  • Take essential health and medical information with you. If you are a diabetic, don't forget your glucose diary. If you are hypertensive, bring along your blood pressure readings. Since you've gone to the trouble of recording this data, you should take the time to share it with your doctor.
  • It is advisable to bring along any medication you are currently taking so the dosage can be verified and the frequency confirmed. Describing your medication as "little white" or "pink" pills is not helpful and wastes everyone's time. Have the name and telephone of your pharmacy handy if you need to have prescriptions or refills called in.
  • Be sure to include any special vitamins, herbal products or any other OTC (over-the-counter) meds you are taking. There can be serious drug interactions that your doctor needs to be aware of.
  • If your complaint necessitates the examination of a particular part of your body, wear appropriate clothing. Wearing tight-fitting slacks or trousers, for example, would make it impossible to examine a swollen knee without the patient having to change into a dressing gown.
  • Personal hygiene is a very sensitive issue that must be addressed. Proper bathing and wearing clean clothes saves the doctor and nurse from having to work in an offensive environment, especially in the close confines of the examining room. If you are coming straight from work to your doctor's office, you can improve the situation by using a deodorant and by changing your clothes. If the examining room environment is really "bad", your doctor and nurse will probably do their utmost to get out of the room as quickly as possible. The patient may then feel that he or she has been given short shrift.
  • Women and occasionally men sometimes use extremely strong perfumes or colognes. Some health care providers are very sensitive to smell and find that these fragrances cause an unpleasant environment in the examining room. Hold off on their use until after your visit. This will also be appreciated by other patients in the waiting room.
  • Currently there is an epidemic of prescription drugs advertised on television. Most end with the phrase "Ask your doctor." Be judicious in how you let these infomercials influence your health care. It would be far more prudent to discuss your specific symptoms and concerns with the doctor rather than requesting a specific drug. It's quite possible that your symptoms are unrelated to the advertised product and that precious moments are wasted that could have addressed other issues.
  • These simple suggestions can help you to get the most out of your visit to your doctor's office. As our health care system continues to experience major shifts, doctor-patient interactions are the cornerstone of the good communications that lead to efficient health care. By working together to smooth out the rough edges, we can all do our part to make a good system even better.

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