You may wish you could spend a whole hour with your doctor, feeling relaxed and unhurried while your doctor lays healing hands on you. You may fantasize about asking all of the questions on your list, getting every question answered, and having time to pick your doctorís brain about the print outs you brought in from the internet search you did so you could be an informed consumer of health care services.† You may dream of truly understanding your diagnosis, having time to check in with your intuition about the treatment options your doctor recommends, and feeling confident that youíve made the right decision about whatís best for the body nobody knows better than you.
But the cold hard truth is that, in a health care system dominated by managed care restrictions that require many doctors to see more than 40 patients per day, the average doctorís visit now lasts 13 minutes. That means some will be a mere 5 minutes long, and only a lucky few will get 30 minutes with their doctors.
I know. It sucks. You deserve more time. You deserve to feel like youíre the center of your doctorís world, with as much time as you need in order to optimize your health and well-being.
I can tell you that your doctor wishes there was more time too. You doctor wants to sit next to you without a clock or a nurse banging on the door or a pager going off or a waiting room full of patients that will be pissed off if you spend too much time with any one patient. (I know. I was once one of those doctors, and I can attest to the fact that doctors are as frustrated with the system as you are.)
But until we revolutionize health care (trust me! Iím trying!), 13 minutes is what weíve got, so itís our responsibility to make the most of it.
8 Ways To Optimize Your Doctorís Visit
1. Do your homework.
The internet can be confusing, but when you know how to use it properly, it can also be an awesome source of medical information that can prepare you to make the most of your 13 minutes.† According to Pew Internet, 80 percent of internet users search for health information online. Google alone serves up 1.2 billion health searches per month.† But thereís no regulation of the information youíll find, and surveys show that fewer than 50 percent of searchers actually find the information useful. Many people type in their medical questions (How do you get herpes? Is it safe to eat tuna when youíre pregnant? How high is too high for my childís fever?) directly into Google. But the results you get depend on which site has the highest Google ranking, not who is delivering the most reliable answer to your question.
So where can you go for trusted medical advice online? I have good news! Iím so committed to empowering patients to take responsibility for their health that Iím partnering with†Avvo.com to launch the No Question Left Unanswered Campaign. Our goal is to provide one million trusted answers in 2012 to your health care questions – for free.† Youíll be able to type your medical question directly into Avvo.com and have it answered by a licensed physician – not just any olí doctor, but one whose credentials you can check out on comprehensive profiles which include patient and client reviews, as well as peer endorsements.
While the internet can never replace the one-on-one, individualized care youíll get from the doctor who knows you and can lay hands on you, websites like Avvo.com can educate you so you know which questions to save for your 13 minutes. So go ahead. Donít be shy.†Ask your burning question here and you might even win a free spot at my Heal Yourself, Heal The World retreat at yoga center Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana this summer!
2. Make a list.
Doing your homework on the internet can prepare you with basic background information, but you may have more specific issues that are unique to you that only your doctor can address.† Write down your issues. Keep a list of questions you want answered. When youíre on the spot, you may forget those pressing issues unless you have something concrete in front of you to remind you.
3. Bring your own updated medical records and call to make sure test results are in before your appointment.
I canít tell you how much time Iíve wasted in visits with patients because we requested medical records from other facilities that were necessary for treatment decisions – and they never arrived. (Yes, Kaiser, Iím especially talking to you.) At the end of each visit, ask for a copy of your medical records, and update it with every visit, then haul your records along with you to every visit. Thatíll save you at least five minutes right there.
If part of your visit will include reviewing the results of blood tests, radiology studies, or biopsy results, call your doctorís office the day before your appointment to make sure the results are in your chart. (Again, you wouldnít believe how much time Iíve wasted twiddling my thumbs in office visits because critical test results never arrived.) You shouldnít have to go to all this effort. It should be done for you. But if you want to use every second of your 13 minutes efficiently, itís worth taking the time.
4. Make your desires known at the beginning of your appointment.
If you have a list of questions you want to be sure your doctor answers, let your desire be known. If you donít pull out your questions until the end, when the doctor has already run out of time, you might get shortchanged, but if your doctor knows you have questions that need to be answered, he or she can prioritize how the 13 minutes is best spent.
Take charge of your appointment.
Itís your appointment. The doctor is there to serve you. If youíre not getting what you need, be respectful and kind, but speak up.† Many patients arenít used to making demands of their doctors, so they just sit back and let the doctor take the reins, then afterwards, they bitch about how they didnít get their needs met. Donít do that. Itís your health, your body, your life. Avoid acting entitled, but do act empowered. Your doctor can better serve your needs if you communicate effectively.
5. Tell the truth.
You donít have to impress your doctor. Weíre not here to judge you.† Thereís no point wasting one precious minute of your 13 minutes beating around the bush. If you think you might have syphilis because you cheated on your husband, Ďfess up.† If youíre not going to agree to the surgery, no matter what we say, tell it to us straight.† If we donít need to bother you with discussions about birth control because youíre a lesbian, come out of the closet. Itíll free up more time so we can get right to the heart of why youíre there.
6. Share your intuitions.
Your doctor may have gone to school for twelve years and dissected cadavers, but I assure you you know your body better than your doctor does.† One of the most valuable questions I ask my patients is ďWhat does your body need in order to heal?Ē In order to answer that question, you must tap into your intuition. If your doctor makes a diagnosis that feels wrong, say so. If she prescribes a treatment that doesnít feel right, tell her.† If you think the solution is something other than conventional medicine, donít be afraid to share your gut instincts. Your doctorís job is to examine you, your vital signs, and your laboratory data, take a stab at the best diagnosis, educate you about your disease and your treatment options, and support you and your intuition, even if it means you find your answers at the acupuncturists office. If your doctor prescribes an anti-depressant you have no intention of taking, speak up. Donít pretend itís cool when itís not.† Be kind but firm about what you know is right for you.
7. Be willing to schedule more appointments.
If you hope to get your annual physical, get a Pap smear, find a diagnosis for a new symptom, have your prescriptions refilled, and get 23 questions answered in 13 minutes, youíre going to be disappointed. It simply canít be done.† Time is a non-renewable resource.† Donít be angry at your doctor. Your doctor would give you more time if the system wasnít so broken.
Instead, decide what is most pressing.† Maybe the annual exam can wait until next week and youíd prefer to focus on your new symptom.† Maybe all you want is to get your 23 questions answered.† Make two appointments. Or three. Or however many it takes – but know that your insurance might deny reimbursement if youíve scheduled 11 visits in one month, so find out ahead of time.
8. Find out the best way to communicate after the appointment is over.
If youíre like most of us, you finally think of the most important question you want to ask 13 minutes after your appointment is over, when youíre in the car, driving home on the freeway. Since you know itís likely youíll think of additional questions after your visit is over, use your 13th minute to ask your doctor how to best communicate regarding issues that come up after the appointment is over. Is there an email address you can use? Should you call the front desk? Are there times when you return calls if the patient leaves a message and wants to speak to the doctor? Is it best to just schedule a follow up appointment if further questions arise? If you know how your doctor prefers to communicate, you can avoid the frustration of feeling unheard once the visit is over.
Empowered patients who take responsibility for their health, rather than punting it into the hands of their doctors, have better health outcomes and feel more satisfied with their health care.
Donít you want to be one of those patients?
Share your wisdom
What has helped you optimize your doctorís visits? How can patients best use the limited time they have with the doctor?
Committed to empowering patients,
PS. Yes, Avvo.com paid me to write this post, but donít mistake that for thinking Iím for sale. (If you recall, Iíve said no very publicly to companies I canít endorse with my whole heart). The companies I endorse have to have Harvard-worthy credentials and totally line up with my personal integrity, and Iím proud to say Avvo.com passes my rigorous screening with flying colors, and Iím honored to be part of their†No Question Left Unanswered Campaign.