Making the Most of Medical Appointments

A man comes out of the doctor’s office and mutters to his wife, “I was so rushed, I forgot half of what I wanted to ask. It wouldn’t have mattered, though; he wasn’t listening anyway.”

Do you ever feel like that? Doctors are extremely busy now. The average doctor appointment in the U.S. lasts about 15 minutes. The average doctor only lets you talk for about 20 seconds before interrupting. How can you get your needs met when your appointment feels like a Christmas Eve department store?

Advertisement

There are strategies and tricks you can use to get the most from your medical appointments. Here are some:

Prepare
• Prep for the appointment like it was a job interview. Write down everything you want the doctor to know and everything you want to ask. You might not get to all of it, but you can leave your questions with the doctor for a call back.

• Bring your medications and your glucose logs, if any. Betsy Carlisle, PharmD, CDE, says you might want to send the logs in advance so someone in the office has a chance to look at them before you get there. You might also want to look at them yourself to identify any problem areas and bring them with you in case the office lost them.

• She also recommends bringing a current list of your medicines, including “any herbs, vitamins, other supplements, and over-the-counter pain relievers you take, along with the current doses of each drug. Note any medicines that have been discontinued since your last visit.”

• You should also bring any recent lab results or reports of appointments with other doctors, and logs of any symptoms you have, such as pain or fatigue.

• Practice saying what you want to tell the doctor. Especially for potentially embarrassing topics like sexuality or bowel problems, it might be helpful to practice, so you don’t chicken out or say it wrong.

• If it works for you, book the first appointment of day or the first one after lunch, so the doctor won’t be backed up.

At the appointment
• Take off your shoes and socks when you get into the room, as a reminder to have your feet checked.

• If you can bring a friend or family member to help you speak up and remember, that’s the best. If you can’t, bring a recording device and/or writing materials to take notes on what the doctor says.

But for some conversations you may want to talk with the doctor alone. Make sure the person you bring knows he may have to step out for a minute or two.

• Be friendly — ask the doctor how her day is going or compliment her on something. Help her see you as a person.

• Don’t waste time, though. Doctors are hurried; no point in taking up time with an amusing story about your brother-in-law or why you don’t like this hospital.

Some advice from AARP writer Amy Paturel in the January-February 2017 issue:

Say your most important needs clearly at the beginning. If you wait until the end, the doc’s mind will already be on the next patient.

• Don’t be afraid to tell the doctor if his advice isn’t going to work, like if he’s saying go to the gym five days a week and you know you won’t. Maybe you can work out an alternative plan.

• If meds cost too much, tell her. Doctors don’t know about your insurance or drug prices. You have to tell them. Don’t try to make the doctor feel good about you. Be honest.

• Clarify, don’t assume you’ve understood. My wife always says something like, “So what I heard you to say is I should take this medicine twice a day, with meals, and I should see improvement in a week. Do I have that right?” Ask him to repeat if you’re not sure.

Improving teamwork
• Find out if there’s an online patient portal you can use to communicate with the doctor. Many health companies have them now. Being able to e-mail your doctor is a huge advantage in getting clear answers and notifying him how things are going. You might want to choose a doctor who has such a patient portal, if you can.

• Ask for copies of lab results. Insist on this. Even if you aren’t going to look at them, you might see another doctor who will want to.

• Make sure each of your providers knows what the others are doing. Laura Hieronymus, DNP, RN, MLDE, BC-ADM, CDE, and Wendell Miers, MD, wrote here, “People with diabetes often see many health-care providers on a routine basis. In fact, many diabetes centers and clinics use a team approach to treat diabetes. People who do not get their care at such a center would do well to establish their own diabetes team of providers who can attend to different aspects of their care and are willing to communicate with one another.”

• The same applies to pharmacists. If you’re getting medications from more than one doctor, and filling them at more than one pharmacy, nobody will know if you’re getting dangerous interactions. Try to get all your prescriptions filled in the same place.

• Get the right doctor for you — not one like one of our readers’ doctors, who told her to stop reading Diabetes Self-Management and stay off the Internet. You need a team, but you have to be the leader of the team.

Glucose tabs really are best when it comes to treating a low. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to read more from Scott Coulter.