What's Up Doc: 24 Tips for an Effective Office Visit

Thanks to changes in the industry, today's doctors spend on average of just 10 to 15 minutes with each patient. As a result, the experience can be both confusing and frustrating if communication is lacking.

Many patients leave the office not understanding the doctor's directions. Ultimately, however, your health is your responsibility. Because physicians can't read your mind, it's your responsibility to take steps to get the most out of your visit.

Here are 24 tips to maximize the time and results of your doctor's office visit.

1 . Find the Right Physician
Ask friends and other health-care providers for references. If you have the opportunity, grill the head emergency room nurse at the largest local hospital as these nurses see doctors at their best and worst and know who is best in their field. The heavily advertised AngiesList details physicians with reviews from patients, but you'll have to pay for this service and it's wise to take these reviews with a grain of salt.

2. Add a Physician to Your Insurance Plan
Don't give up if your preferred doctor doesn't accept your insurance. Call the insurance provider and ask it to consider adding this doctor to their list. If not, ask why. Sometimes the company will agree if even just a few patients ask the insurer and the physician approves. Likewise, ask your doctor if you could persuade him to begin accepting your insurer.

3. Set a Goal for the Appointment
Do you need a diagnosis, advice on coping with an existing condition, referral to a specialist, or a change in treatment? This goal should guide your communication with the doctor, who generally will first listen to your history and then perform a physical exam.

4. Schedule Enough Time
Tell the office scheduler the reason or reasons you wish to see the doctor and request a longer time slot if you feel it may be necessary.

5. Schedule at Slow Times
You'll likely have a shorter wait to see the doctor if you schedule an appointment first thing in the morning or directly after lunch.

6. Make a List
Bring a list with the names and dosages of any prescription, over-the-counter medications or supplements you're taking. The nurse will take down this information before you visit with the doctor. Don't assume they have this information on their records or have easy access to it. If your medications are complicated, it's smart to keep a typed copy of this information in your wallet for emergency situations.

7. Supply All Records
If you're seeing a physician for the first time, make sure their office has copies of all your medical records, including specialists and such non-traditional caregivers as chiropractors. Ask your doctor's office how they would prefer to have these records transferred.

8. Bring Your Insurance Card
Even if you believe your doctor's office will have this information on their records, it's wise to bring your insurance card. Some offices have instituted a policy of checking insurance card for each visit, just to make sure there have been no changes.

9. Know Your Medical History.
Knowing the medical history of your blood relatives -- including birth parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents and even your aunts and uncles -- can help a physician better understand your health situation. By identifying medical problems early, sometimes before symptoms develop, they may be able to reduce your risk of developing certain diseases.

10. Turn Off Your Phone
Physicians run on very tight schedules and the time you waste on the phone is time lost treating your problem.

11. Respect the Doctor's Time
Arrive early to fill out any forms. Ask the most important questions first. Keep in mind your physician doesn't have time to look at family photos, discuss your vacation or listen to long stories. Granted, emergencies and unforeseen circumstances may cause physicians to run late, but that doesn't mean you can show up late for an appointment. You might, however call ahead and make sure the doctor is running on schedule. If they're running far behind, ask to move your appointment ahead.

12. Don't Bring the Family

The doctor doesn't want to see your husband and three kids, all of whom are also sick. They won't receive free care.

13. Ask Providers to Wash Their Hands
Ask the doctor and other caregivers to wash their hands before treating you. Despite recommendations, nearly 60 percent of health-care workers don't wash hands between visits, transmitting germs from patient to patient. Infections caught at hospitals and other health-care facilities are among the leading causes of preventable death in the U.S., accounting for an estimated 1.7 million infections and 99,000 associated deaths.

14. Listen for the Truth
When a doctor tells you to lose 15 to 20 pounds, what he really means is you need to lose 50.

15. Be Specific
Don't just say you feel tired, explain exactly what it feels like. Describe your symptoms accurately to help your doctor best understand the problem and order the proper treatment or tests.

16. Don't Be Embarrassed
There's nothing you can say most doctors haven't already heard. Don't be ashamed to discuss sensitive topics with your doctor.

17. Ask for an Interpretation
If you don't understand the technical language your doctor is using, let him or her know know so they can slow down, rephrase or even write notes.

18. Research Specialists

Your physician may recommend you to a specialist with whom they're not familiar, simply because that specialist accepts your insurance. You'll likely have to learn more about the specialist on your own.

19. Understand Your Tests
If the doctor recommends a diagnostic test, understand what will occur and what the test involves. Ask why the doctor is requesting the test and if there are less-expensive but equally effective alternatives.

20. Take Responsibility
Become a partner in your health care, not an observer. Keep track of symptoms, write down the doctor's instructions and follow them carefully. If you are easily confused, bring a friend to take notes and help you understand.

21. Trust Your Doctor More Than the Internet
Your doctor generally knows more than a Web site. Don't e-mail them a few days after your visit to explain you found a wacky cure on the Internet and want to try it. While some Web sites may offer valid information, you can't diagnose yourself solely from the Internet.

22. Request a Discount
If you're truly sick and facing financial difficulties, ask your doctor for a discount. Some will cut your bill in half and others may treat you at no charge.

23. Don't Wait for Test Results
Ask when test results will likely be available and call the office that day, and the day after, and the day after...until the results come in. A postcard from the lab may have been lost and, in a bustling office, records can sit for a day or two without being noticed.

24. Remember Doctors Can Make Mistakes
Doctors are only human. They get tired, overworked, need time off and generally are susceptible to all human foibles. Physicians aren't gods and can make mistakes.

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2 Comments

Actually, an even better reason to turn off the cell phone is that some medical devices are quite sensitive to electronic interference, and devices that are pinged by incoming signals cause some of the worst problems.
Posted by Inquisitive Raven
Good information, except for the part about grilling the ER nurse. I work at a large local hospital as an ER nurse, and we know nothing about good or bad local doctors. The physicians that we see and know and can tell you about are emergency physicians who only treat ER patients and don't ever work at regular medical offices. The best we could do is offer what we hear from patients, though it is often skewed information coming from begrudged patients that gets to our ears.
Posted by Braden