A doctor’s guide to getting the most out of your appointment

I often get asked by my patients how to get the most out of a doctor’s appointment. Here’s my advice.

Doctor’s visits are on average 15 minutes. This might seem like a frustratingly short amount of time to get everything checked out. Perhaps you worry about how you can get all of your questions answered within this time frame. But, patients aren’t the only ones who struggle with the short appointment times. It’s a tough task for doctors to get everything done within the allocated time frame. Pressures from managed care often make it impossible for medical providers to spend more time than this. During an average 15 minute appointment, doctors spend a couple of minutes to open your file and read through the notes. Then, we probably have 10 minutes left for the appointment.

The good news is that you can ensure that your visit is productive by preparing ahead of time. You can improve the quality of you and your loved one’s care by helping your doctor understand your needs within the time allocated. Here are some ways to do that.

Before The Visit

Here are some things that you will want to do before the visit.

Identify The Reason For The Visit

Before you schedule your appointment, identify the reason for the visit. Be very clear about why you are coming.

- Is this an annual yearly visit?

- Are you having symptoms or are feeling ill?

- Do you need a referral to a specialist?

- Do you need prescriptions refilled?

There is a big difference between a yearly preventive exam and a problem visit. These two visits are billed differently and they take up different amounts of time. Likewise, what kind of symptoms you’re having is an important detail also. It will take your doctor a lot longer to investigate chest pain than the common cold. If you are experiencing chest pain, they might need to do additional tests like an ECG. So, to make sure your doctor schedules the right amount of time for your visit, be clear about why you’re coming and what you hope will happen.

Make A List

If this is a wellness or annual visit, make a list of the most important issues that you wish to discuss. Although you might want to get everything in during one visit, the reality is that it is not possible to do so in a 15-minute visit. If you try to bring up 20 problems during a 15-minute appointment, the doctor will not be able to explore your problems in depth. Also, it takes time away from the next patient’s appointment. Instead, choose one or two things that you really want to focus on. Think quality over quantity. Also, make sure that the most important things are at the top of the list. So, if you are experiencing chest pain, it would be number one on the list.

The Day Of The Appointment

Be On-Time

It is important to be punctual for your appointment. Leave your house or work early. Plan to arrive at least 20 minutes before your scheduled appointment time. Doing so will give you plenty of time to fill out paperwork and check-in.

During The Visit

Go Over Your Concerns

When you go back to see the doctor, let your doctor know your agenda. Also, make sure you listen to your doctor’s concerns, as well. Your doctor may want to investigate something further. They have years of training and experience. So, make sure you take their advice into consideration, as well.

Be Direct And Clear

Focus on communicating clearly with your doctor. Be honest and direct. You want to get all the important information across during your appointment. Don’t be coy or beat around the bush. 21st century medicine dictates that physicians spend time during the appointment typing notes into the computer. But, they should make time for face-to-face communication during the appointment. If not, then speak up.

Before The Visit Ends

If the visit is coming to a close, and the doctor has not addressed your main concerns, make sure you bring them up again. If you feel like an important question has been left unanswered, say so. If you don’t understand something, speak up. However, resist the urge to squeeze in other concerns at the last minute. This will take the focus away from your current problems and it won’t leave your doctor with time to thoroughly investigate. What if you think of something else at the end of the visit that you want to talk about?

After The Appointment

Here are some things to do after the appointment.

Follow Through On Recommendations

Make sure you follow your doctor’s advice. Your doctor has taken the time to get to know you. They know your medical history and how to best approach your symptoms. So, make sure you follow through on their recommendations.

Practice Preventive Care

Remember, prevention is the best medicine. There are a lot of things that you can do between doctor’s visits to stay healthy and improve the quality of your life. Here are some things that you can do to lead a healthy lifestyle:

- Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit now. If you need help, talk to your doctor.

- Exercise every day. The research is clear that exercise can help you live a longer and healthier life. I generally recommend 30 minutes of cardio, every day of the week.

- Get some sunshine. Walking in nature provides both stress-relieving and physical benefits. Try to get out before 10 AM.

- Pay attention to nutrition. Choose healthy, organic food. Make sure you eat lots of whole fruits and vegetables. I also recommend grass-fed free-range, ethically-killed meat.

- Don’t use alcohol or drugs. If you do drink, make sure you drink responsibly.

Remember, treating yourself better will help your doctor help you.