An apple a day won't keep the doctor away forever. Sooner or later, you'll need to make an appointment. There are ways to make that visit flow smoothly.
Fact is, life is moving at a fast pace for everyone, including physicians. When Dr. Paul Griner started practicing in 1964, the average follow-up patient visit with a primary care physician was 30 minutes; a new patient visit would go an hour. That's no longer the case.
"The pressure is greater to see more and more patients, and there are fewer personal physicians to go around," says Griner, a resident of New Preston, Conn., and author of "The Power of Patient Stories: Learning Moments in Medicine" (CreateSpace). A good doctor-patient relationship is essential to getting the best possible care, Griner believes. Here's where to start:
Degree of difficulty: Easy
Plan for the visit. "Bring a list of things you want to talk about,'' says Dr. Molly Cooke, a San Francisco-based internist and president of the American College of Physicians. "We won't necessarily get through everything," she adds, noting there may be issues your doctor wants to explore with you too. But the two of you can then "negotiate" what will be covered during this visit.
"If the first minute is spent comparing the doc's list to the patient's list, many visits would have a happier outcome for both sides," she says.
"What is tough, of course, is at the end of the visit when you have your hand on the doorknob and the patient says he or she has something to talk about," Cooke adds. "Even worse is to leave without talking about the issue."
Be accurate and as specific as possible in describing symptoms. "It helps the physician narrow down what's happening," says Griner, who suggests you consider answers to these questions: When did the symptom start? Was there a gradual or sudden onset? What were you doing at the time? Is the symptom severe? Is there anything I'm doing to make the symptom worse? Anything I'm doing to help ease symptoms? Has this happened before? Are there associated symptoms beyond the main one?
Bring a list of all medications, including the dosage and how often you take it — or not. (Be honest.) Even better, bring the medicines in their packaging. "Doctors hardly ever see the pills," says Cooke, noting medications are made by different pharmaceutical companies and can vary in appearance. "So, if the patient says their side effects are from the yellow pill, the doctor won't know what it is." Include over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, supplements, etc., on the list.
Honesty is the best policy. "The doctor is asking personal questions not to be nosy but because he or she is trying to identify risk factors," says Dr. Ravi Grivois-Shah, the new physician representative on the board of directors of the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Be on time or early for your appointment. "It's surprising how often the doctor's office will be able to see you earlier," says Griner. Being on time or early gives the office team time to gather paperwork, medical history or perform preliminary tests, he says.
See the upside in waiting. Consider it valuable personal time to relax, says Griner, who recommends bringing a good book. That said, the patient should be notified if the physician is running significantly late, preferably before arriving at the office.
Try to gather needed test results, X-rays and other records ahead of the appointment, or make arrangements to have them sent, Grivois-Shah says.
Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
Speak up if you are concerned or don't understand the doctor. "Not speaking up is not doing them or the doctor a favor," says Cooke.