Congratulations! You got yourself to the doctor and none of your limbs are falling off. Well done (seriously, I know it wasn’t easy.) After you fill out your paperwork, pre-pay your co-payment, sign in, meet the nurse (who hopefully introduces herself), the doctor walks in. You have about fifteen to twenty minutes to say what you need to say, show what you need to show and say “Ahhhh.” It is not a lot of time; not enough time even if you have no concerns. It stinks for you and I can say from experience, it stinks for the guy with the stethoscope. You may think that there are only two of you in the room but lawyers, administrators, bureaucrats, and possibly Dr. House are hiding behind the jar of cotton balls.
Not as intimate as it should be but for the time being, it is what it is. You can ask them to leave but they’ll just laugh. Try to ignore them, help yourself and make the most of your visit.
1. Come with reasonable expectations – one stop shopping is a beautiful thing. (I have a love affair with Target; will go in for a toothbrush and leave with a portable blender, margarita glasses, a disco ball, and a toaster.) Your doctor cannot do what Target can do, nor would you want her to … do you really need a toaster? All your concerns may not be addressed in one visit but that does not mean that the appointment was a waste. Remember, (10/4 below) you are building a relationship.
2. Know your questions before you go in – don’t hesitate to write them down and hand them to the doctor as soon as he says, “What brought you here today?” (And, don’t say, “a taxi” … really there is NO time for corny jokes.) It is easy to forget what you wanted to talk about when you are sitting there wondering when she is going to say, “Turn your head and cough.” If your doctor has an overview of your questions, she will be better able to manage time and hopefully, address them all. I can’t even tell you how many times I obtained a complete history, finished examining my patient, did some preventive counseling and started my goodbye only to have her say something like, “Oh and by the way, every time I eat fish and chips, I feel like I am drowning.” Whoa baby, let’s start over … going to be a long day.
3. Know your medical history – obtaining your history can take a long time. Be prepared. If you take medications or supplements, write down the names and dosages and bring the list with you. If you have an allergy to a medication, know the med and the reaction (if it upset your stomach or kept you up at night it is not an allergy.) The medical problems and/or cause of death of every one of your family members is not only unimportant, it is depressing and really boring to listen to. Focus first on your parents and siblings and second, on your grandparents and the siblings of your parents. In almost all cases, there is no third (the exception being if you need to see a geneticist.)
4. Don’t lie – you aren’t going to get in trouble for smoking, drinking, doing drugs, cheating on your diet or cheating on your partner. Tell the truth as it may be important to your health. At the very least, it may be entertaining.
5. Focus – studies show that most patients remember as little as 25% of what their doctor tells them, kind of like my kids as they are running out the door with no shoes, no lunch, half of their homework and me – running after them wildly waving Henry the hamster for Show and Tell. Their excuse is that they aren’t that smart. What’s yours? Pay attention and don’t feel silly taking out a pen and paper and writing everything down. It will help you remember and it will make your doctor feel important. We like feeling important as we have really big egos, that’s why we put MD on our license plates; so the car behind us knows we went to school for a very long time.