How to Prepare for a Doctor Visit

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Dr. Kathy Maupin and Brett Newcomb discuss the changing landscape of today’s healthcare industry. They discuss various strategies to help optimize the time patients spend at the doctor’s office.

The world of medicine is constantly changing. One of the more unpleasant changes is that doctors have less and less time to spend with individual patients. The average allotted time now is approximately seven minutes. If you have been to the doctor in the last year or two, you may have noticed some changes in the way the visit is conducted. First, the nurse will interview you quickly trying to determine why you are there and what issues you may have. You may also fill out a questionnaire in the waiting room that does the same thing. While the RN or Medical Assistant interviews you, they usually are looking at a computer screen and not at you. They will make typed notations on a computer check list as they move through a structured interview.

The visit is less personal and more automated than ever before. This is due to two things: your insurance company pays less and less for your visit as you pay more and more for your insurance, and the federal government has demanded that doctors who take insurance, Medicare and/or Medicaid have to use a computer chart. The government, once again, dictates how you and your doctor talk to one another.

The questions that your interviewer asks come from a billing program which will justify the cost of the visit. It is not about you, it is about the money that keeps the doctor in business. Occasionally, you will be asked about your overall health, and your reason for the visit. You will get a prescription or not, and you go on your way without any idea of what the doctor thinks is wrong with you.

I am not slamming doctors—I used to practice this way, too, and I wasn’t able to offer the necessary kind of care in that paradigm. The decision that I made to practice in a specialty area of hormone therapy resulted from my desire to run my medical practice without insurance companies or the government telling me what to do. Most doctors, sadly, don’t have that option.

So, I am going to explain to you my method to get the most for your time with the doctor. This method actually was recommended in the AMA website for patients:

  1. You must prepare for your doctor visit before you get there. Most importantly, write all of your information on one page, in this order:
    – Why you are there (in a few sentences)?
    – When did it begin?
    – Is it constant or intermittent?
    – What makes it better or worse?
    You can even write down what you think the problem is. Do not write too much. This defeats the purpose and your doctor may give you the diagnosis of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder instead of reading your symptoms.
  2. Next, list the medications you are on, with dosages. Follow that by listing your supplements, your allergies, and what other doctors you have seen in the recent past.
  3. If this is your first visit, you will need to know your other medical diagnoses (problems), and the diseases that run in your family.
  4. Keep these lists updated on your computer and and take it with you in print.

When you see the nurse or doctor, hand your one-page medical sheet to them, which they will scan for information. This will cut out most of the time needed for telling the doctor what is wrong and he or she can spend more time thinking about a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Lastly, do not leave without getting the following directions: how to take medication, what lab or X-rays to get, and when to come back. You should at least understand the different diagnoses that your doctor is considering. Make sure you understand what the doctor has told you to do. Ask for it in writing if you don’t think that you’ll be able to remember, then follow the directions as they are laid out.

Now, once you have left the doctor’s office, it is your responsibility to follow directions, take your medications, and schedule your follow-up appointment and keep it. Many people sabotage their own medical treatment by ignoring all of the directions given by the doctor. Remember, it’s your responsibility to do your part!

Another method of self-sabotage is to take medical advice from the internet or from a friend, especially if it involves taking someone else’s prescriptions. If your doctor gives you a prescription, take all of it in exactly the way it was prescribed. Don’t play with your meds, don’t stop taking them early, or take them sporadically. If you plan to be your own doctor, then you are practicing on yourself without a license. There is not a more risky proposition than that.

It is increasingly more important that you are an active and functional participant in your healthcare and, especially, in your doctor visits. Follow these suggestions and you will receive more effective medical care in fewer visits—which means more time for you to have fun. As in all of life, a little preparation yields great rewards!