Doctors spend on average about 15 to 20 minutes with each patient they see for routine exams. (Of course, there is often time out of the exam room that is spent reviewing the chart and records.) The experience can be both confusing and frustrating when communication on one or both sides is lacking, particularly if you're presented with new information to process or new instructions to follow.
While a visit to the clinic can be intimidating for anyone, you can lessen the stress and worry associated with doctor's appointments by taking steps to be sure that you're provided with all the information you need at the appointment. There are also ways to improve the quality of care by helping the doctor develop the best understanding possible of your symptoms and condition.
After a skiing injury 30 years ago, Bert Pepper, MD, got osteoarthritis in his left knee. "I stopped skiing and gave up tennis, running, and other sports that are tough on the knee," he says. "I turned to speed-walking to stay fit, but the knee kept me from walking at a good pace."
As his pain got worse and walking became harder, he looked into having a knee replacement. It's not a decision to make lightly, says Pepper, who is a psychiatrist. "It's a major life event. You have to be prepared to...
Before the appointment, write down a list of things you need to tell the doctor. Note any concerns or questions you may have. Also write down the names and dosages of any prescription, over-the-counter medications, or supplements you are taking. It is very important to take this list with you to the appointment -- don't count on remembering every single item. Before you leave the office, go over the list to be sure you've covered everything. This simple step benefits both you and your doctor by keeping the discussion focused and ensuring that all concerns are addressed.
Don't hesitate to use the words "I don't understand." Doctors are only human and may not always know when they haven't explained something well or in terms you can understand. Never feel embarrassed or shy about asking for clarification about something your doctor says. When in doubt, repeat back what the doctor has told you and ask if you've got it right. You can also ask if he or she recommends any specific reading materials about your condition.
If your doctor asks questions that sound embarrassing or overly personal, remember that the information you provide enables him or her to better establish a diagnosis, or to determine which treatment is most appropriate. Never fib in response to questions about alcohol or drug use, sexual history, or other lifestyle matters. Be honest about the extent to which you are taking your prescriptions or following a treatment plan. Withholding the truth can affect the quality of your care and can even lead to a wrong diagnosis.