Make The Most From Every Moment With Your Physician

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March 13, 2020

If you’ve ever found yourself driving home from the doc, thinking about all the things you forgot to ask, this list is for you.

It’s not your imagination: Your doctor’s visit seems short because it is. Most doctor’s visits are between 13-16 minutes, with folks in rural areas getting even less time, according to a 2017 paper published in Economics Bulletin.

These short visits are not your doctor’s fault. They’re trapped in a system where reimbursements are based on visits only being 15 minutes long. If they want to keep the practice’s lights on, they have to keep the appointments rolling. But the effect is that you and your physician may cover a lot of ground in those few minutes together. This means you’ll need to be strategic on picking what most needs covering. Here’s what to do—and somewhat more importantly, what not to do—to make every second count.


Ask If You Can Record

Even if your memory is ordinarily faultless, doctor’s visit can make us anxious, and anxiety wreaks havoc on our memory, says Dan Gardner, MD, a San Diego-based psychiatrist. If you’re asking your doctor to repeat what she just said five minutes ago, you’re wasting both of your time.  

Recording eliminates the need for you to ask for a second or third time, wait, do I take this pill with a meal? It also means that if you forget what your doctor said a day or two later, you can simply play the recording. Make sure you ask before using Medcorder since many states require two-party consent.  


Be Prepared

Because anxiety can make your memory slip, sometimes you mean to ask a doctor a question and then forget all about it until you’re driving home. The best way to alleviate this, says Dr. Gardner, is to create a list of all the issues you wish to discuss and bring it with you. “Bring a copy to give to the doctor and bring a copy for you,” says Dr. Gardner. This way, you both understand what you’re trying to get out of the visit.  

If your list is quite long, “the doctor may handle it by requesting a follow-up appointment,” says Dr. Geoff Rutledge, MD, an emergency physician and CEO of Health Tap, a telemedicine platform. In case that happens, plan ahead by figuring out which items on your list are most important to address that day.


Bring Backup

Copies of relevant health records are useful, says Dr. Rutledge. He suggests bringing paper versions, since it’s slow for a physician to scroll around an unfamiliar phone. Personal info—say a journal where you record what you ate before you got a headache, or where you chart symptoms, can be helpful too.  


Leave Doctor Google At Home

Those 15 pages you printed off from an Internet forum about vaccines? Don’t bring them. Your doctor likely already knows all the relevant, peer-reviewed research that’s out there, and explaining why these Internet strangers’ anecdotes do not apply to you (and how basic medical research and statistics work) is a waste of your precious visit.

“That old aphorism is that every headache turns into brain cancer on the Internet in three clicks or less is not wrong, because brain cancer can cause headaches. But what’s missing on the Internet is context,” says Dr. Rutledge. Doctors are experts at solving the complex context equation of a patient’s specific symptoms, adding up life factors like age, family history, and lifestyle habits, and ending up with the most likely diagnosis.  

In fact, Dr. Rutledge urges his patients to let him lead the questioning. If a patient comes in with a preconceived notion on what may be wrong, the doctor often spends most of the visit trying to explain why that condition isn’t likely, he says. Of course, there is no shame in doing research, but allow your doctor to put their medical training to work first. If you still think you know what you have—and it’s not the conclusion your doctor came to—bring it up after they’ve given you their diagnosis.  


Be As Honest As Possible

As a behavioral health practitioner, Dr. Gardner gets more time with his patients than other physicians. Still, even that time can be wasted if a patient isn’t forthright about what’s going on. “It’s sort of like taking your car to the mechanic and when they tell you to open the hood saying that you’d prefer they not look in there,” says Dr. Gardner.    

We get it—some medical problems are embarrassing. However, you are paying your doctor to help you, and confidentiality laws keep anything discussed in the exam room private. Withholding pertinent medical history or failing to mention specific symptoms because you find them hard to talk about won’t help you get the care you need.

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