How many times have you left a doctor’s appointment and realized that you forgot to ask an important question or didn’t fully understand your physician’s instructions?
It happens to everyone. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to avoid the common mistakes that keep you from getting exactly what you need at the doctor’s office…
MISTAKE 1: Making your list too long. Most people know to write down their concerns and bring the list to their appointment. But many people make the mistake of trying to include every question they may have. The average doctor’s appointment lasts only about 15 minutes, so you’ll probably get to cover only a few issues in a single appointment.
What works best: Edit your list, and be sure that the problems that trouble you the most are the ones you bring up first. If you can’t decide what’s most important, hand your list to your doctor and say, “I’d like you to help me figure out which of these we should discuss today.” If you believe all the issues are crucial, consider booking a double appointment, but be aware that insurance may not cover the extra cost.
MISTAKE 2: Diagnosing, not describing. If you tell your doctor that you have “neuropathic pain,” he/she will have no idea whether you are knowledgeable enough to make that judgment. Instead, be descriptive. Say, “I have burning pain, numbness and tingling.” What helps doctors make the best diagnosis is your data — unfiltered. Even if another doctor has given you a diagnosis, describe your problem to your current doctor in your own words.
What works best: Think like a reporter. Interview yourself before your appointment, and write down your answers. When did the problem start? How does it feel? Where does it hurt? What makes it better? What makes it worse?
MISTAKE 3: Being on a different page from the person who accompanies you to your visit. As we all know, bringing a friend or family member to your appointment can help you remember crucial information and remind you of details you wanted to share with your doctor. But if your companion’s agenda is different from yours, it can interfere with your care.
What works best: Let your companion know ahead of time what your goals are for the visit and how he can help you reach them. Also ask about his concerns, and if he has questions for the doctor, tell that to the doctor at the beginning of the appointment.
MISTAKE 4: Letting your doctor cut you off. The widely publicized studies that showed doctors interrupt patients within 18 seconds are misleading. The researchers counted anything the doctor said — including “uh-huh” or “go on” — as interruptions. That said, doctors often don’t let patients finish, mostly because they are thinking ahead to what the problem might be and they jump in with questions.
What works best: Say, “What I need to tell you will take only about another 30 seconds. May I finish telling you what’s going on? Then I’ll answer your questions.” Similarly, some doctors appear distracted — for example, he may be talking to you and taking notes on the computer at the same time. Of course, you do want him to take good notes, but if you’re truly bothered, you can move your chair or otherwise position yourself so the doctor can see you and the screen. Or simply say, “You know, doctor, having your full attention would really help me.”
MISTAKE 5: Thinking your doctor is “dismissing” you. Sometimes your doctor won’t agree with you. If you think that you have a certain condition but he doesn’t agree, don’t assume that he hasn’t considered what you said. It probably just means that based on your symptoms and his experience, he disagrees.
What works best: Ask yourself if your theory about your ailment could be wrong and what harm there would be in trying your doctor’s advice. If you don’t want to take the chance or still believe the doctor was dismissive of your concern, get a second opinion.
MISTAKE 6: Not being completely honest. In an ideal world, patients would be comfortable telling their doctors anything, but in reality, some things are embarrassing. Doctors know this — that’s why many will say things like, “How are you doing with your medicines? It must be hard to remember to take them all.” This is their way of letting you know it’s OK to be honest.
What works best: Be straight with your doctor about your habits — good and bad. If you say you’re taking your blood pressure medicine and your blood pressure is still high, the doctor may increase the dose or add another drug. That’s bad because it may expose you unnecessarily to side effects.
But if you are honest and tell your doctor that you haven’t been taking the medication as directed, you can talk to him about the reason. Maybe you can’t afford a certain drug or it’s causing side effects. In many cases, there are alternatives that will work for you.
MISTAKE 7: Forgetting the wrap-up. At the end of every doctor’s appointment, summarize the conversation and be sure that you understand what to expect and what your next steps are.
What works best: Write down what’s new from your appointment. Are there new medicines? How will you know if they are working? Do you need tests? How do you schedule them? And always ask, “When do you want to see me again?”
MISTAKE 8: Being afraid to “break up” with your doctor. It’s important to find a doctor who fits your personality. But in order to do that, you must know yourself and your needs. Do you want a doctor who’s always on time and is all about the facts? Or is it more important that your doctor be soothing and responsive to your emotional needs? Should he be someone who worries about unusual things and will order tests that other doctors normally wouldn’t?
What works best: Ask friends or family for recommendations, but realize that it often takes a visit or two to find out if you’re in sync with a particular doctor. If not, don’t be embarrassed to move on to someone else. It’s OK to say: “I like you, but I think I need a doctor who is more like X. Can you recommend someone?” Most doctors know their colleagues well enough to give you the right referral.