In medical school we were coached on how to act when seeing patients, then filmed and critiqued during a mock patient visit. We were taught to say our names clearly and loudly, look the patients in the eye, shake hands, identify and greet all people in the room, then sit down and listen.
Now, turning the table and focusing on the patient’s actions, I have witnessed a wide variety of patient behaviors. My patients have been sad, stoic, psychotic, depressed, talkaholics and sometimes downright hilarious.
Just as doctors need to act in certain ways to satisfy patients, so should patients act in certain ways to get the most out of their encounter.
1. DO look your physician in the eye and greet him (or her), even if you are not feeling well. Perhaps ask him how HE (or she) is doing!I was floored by an elderly lady who at the end of another long, rough day in the Emergency Department asked me how I was doing because she had seen how hard I had been working. At that point I would have done almost anything for her. Obviously the visit is not about the physician, but it pays dividends to give a little attention to him (or her), and believe me it rarely happens.
2. DO write down questions ahead of time. It is difficult to think fast when you have only a few minutes. Bring a pen to write down the answers, names of referrals, and telephone numbers. Better yet, have the physician write down the names of diseases and medications and make drawings for you to take home.
Many patients come to me after seeing another physician, and when I ask what they were told, they reply, “I don’t remember,” or their re-telling to me is not entirely accurate. Medical records can and should be obtained but it takes time and paperwork.
3. DO bring an accurate and clearly written list of your medications and allergies to every appointment. Do not always count on the information being in your chart or being completely up to date, especially if you have seen other specialists.
4. DO bring caregivers and important historians with you to the appointment. When I ask a typical man why he is seeing me, he turns and points to his wife. She usually does the talking from then on, with the man occasionally disagreeing with her.
It usually goes something like, “He has been having excruciating chest pain.” He says, “No it wasn’t excruciating and it wasn’t in my chest.” She then says, “Then why did you say it was your heart and you were gonna die you old fool!”
Anyway, you get the idea. Others who can supply information should be present and patient drop-offs are discouraged.
5. DO ask your physician a lot of questions (with the list you had written) including alternative treatments and medications, and what the next steps will be if you do not improve. Ask about cost of prescriptions if that is an issue (and it usually is!). Don’t be embarassed; doctors themselves are the most frugal (cheap) people around.
Ask questions like these: “Doctor, are there any blood pressure medications that are effective and cost less than the one you prescribed that cost me $110 last month?,” “Is an MRI scan going to change the treatment of my back pain or can we wait to see if the new medication and exercises are effective first?”
Physicians are pressured to see a lot of patients in a short period of time, usually at least three to fourpatients per hour, so get the most out of your appointment. Regard your physician as your “personal medical consultant.” I cannot over-emphasize becoming educated, and writing down and asking a lot of questions – communication is the key.
One last tip: If you feel you are not establishing a good rapport with your doctor, you can always ask about his or her kids (or dogs). This one hasn’t failed yet!
Coming next week: What NOT to do your next doctor’s visit.
Disclaimer: This does not take the place of regular medical care, and is not a complete review of any medical conditions. Consult with a physician before any treatment or taking any medications. Seek medical attention immediately for any serious symptoms, or call 911. No current or local patients have been referenced, so any resemblance is purely coincidental.