There are a number of scenarios that could lead to you not getting what you need out of a doctor’s appointment.
Sometimes the blame falls solely on the physician, who may not take you seriously when you explain what’s wrong. “There are also patients who come to me with a great deal of medical trauma due to inadequate care,” said Casey Kelley, founder and medical director at Case Integrative Health in Chicago. “Frequently, these patients have dealt with dismissive doctors for years, so they tend to downplay their symptoms and pain.”
There’s no need to be embarrassed about anything you’re going through — the more honest you are from the jump, the sooner your doctor can get to the root of the problem. “I promise you, we’ve heard it all before,” Kelley said.
But in some cases, if you’re not getting what you need out of your appointments, it may be because you’re unintentionally standing in your own way.
Here are 10 things you might be doing during your visits that can negatively impact the quality of your care — and what to do instead.
1. When patients reveal a problem as the visit is ending.
You typically have three opportunities to state the purpose of your visit: when you make the appointment and the receptionist asks, when the nurse who checks you in asks, and when the doctor comes into the room and asks what concerns you have.
“It never fails, someone will mention they have chest pain as I’m about to walk out the door,” said Alicia Shelly, an internal medicine physician with Wellstar Medical Group in Douglasville, Georgia. “I believe people either get nervous and forget about the symptom or have too many problems they want to discuss and end up waiting until the last minute to mention a major symptom.”
Unfortunately, doctor’s appointments are usually only 15 to 30 minutes in length — and that includes checking you in, the nurse taking your vitals and the actual doctor’s visit.
“It’s important to tell your provider the most important problems right away so they can ask the right questions and order the correct tests within the timeframe allowed,” Shelly said.
2. When patients are on the phone during their appointment.
A doctor’s time with each patient is already so limited and gets backed up even more by emergencies or administrative tasks. Even one appointment running long because you’re on the phone further adds to the scheduling pileup.
“We need your undivided attention so we can stay on schedule and provide the rest of our patients with the amount of time and attention they deserve,” said Dagny Zhu, an opthamologist and medical director of Hyperspeed LASIK in Rowland Heights, California.
3. When patients suggest they already know everything about a health topic because they’ve Googled it.
It’s important to be your own advocate — but it’s just as important to keep an open mind during a consult with your doctor.
“I’ve had patients come in who demand LASIK when cataract surgery would be the better option,” Zhu said. “The practice of medicine is very complex — we consider a multitude of tests, clinical findings and other patient-specific factors in order to come up with a final diagnosis and treatment plan.”
Ask questions and challenge your doctor to clear up topics that you’re genuinely confused about, but also trust their expertise. If all it took to diagnose and treat patients were a few Google searches, “I would never have undergone 13 years of post-high school training,” Zhu said.
4. When patients try to squeeze multiple appointments into one visit.
An annual physical is about how your doctor can help you prevent future illness; follow-up visits are when you should address specific problems.
“Physicals focus on what preventative tests you need at this age and what your cancer risk is,” Shelly said.
Don’t try to get a physical when you’re visiting a doctor for a particular concern. That can throw a wrench in your doctor’s schedule — plus, insurance policies might mean you can’t actually get a physical that day.
“You need to know what type of business you’re here for so I can focus on why you’re here and address your specific concerns,” Shelly said. “If you’re here for a physical and there’s also a problem you have, make a separate follow-up appointment to discuss and look into it.”
5. When patients don’t prioritize what problems they want to bring up.
If you have too many concerns, your doctor might have difficulty evaluating any or all of them.
“When you have over three problems, it’s harder to focus and sometimes things get missed,” Shelly said. “As a result, your care is less effective.”
Instead, streamline your list of concerns to no more than three things you’d like to discuss. If you’re not sure what to prioritize and what can wait, make a list and show it to your doctor so they can assess what needs to be evaluated right away.
6. When patients aren’t truthful about their medications or health habits.
You might be holding back out of shame, but that missing information can impact the care you receive.
“When patients aren’t using their glaucoma drops because of redness or burning, for instance, we may think their glaucoma is uncontrolled and recommend surgery, instead of simply switching medications,” Zhu said.
The same goes for sharing information like how much you drink or any other medications or substances you used.
The bottom line? Always be truthful. “There’s no shame,” Zhu said. “Our goal is always to ensure you receive the best treatment possible.”
7. When patients are late for appointments.
When you’re late, it throws off the schedule. Not only could you end up waiting longer, but your doctor will probably have to rush through your visit, because multiple people might be ready to be seen.
“I’ll have the first patient come right before the 15-minute cutoff, then the second patient comes right on time and the third patient comes 15 minutes early, so now I’ve got three people waiting to be seen at the same time,” Shelly said.
8. When patients switch from one doctor to the next without reason.
Some people hop from doctor to doctor when they don’t notice any improvement in the condition being treated.
“The problem with this is each doctor is seeing the patient for the first time,” Zhu said. “Much of our ability to diagnose and treat comes from seeing the patient’s course of illness and response to certain medications over time.”
If something isn’t working, a doctor you’ve seen before can try something new and take a step based on whether you’re doing better or worse.
“It’s always best to stick to one doctor for the duration of the treatment, if possible,” Zhu said.
Of course, there’s a big exception to this: If you feel like you’re not getting adequate care or you’re not being heard, you should definitely find someone who makes you feel seen and comfortable.
9. When patients don’t bring a list of the medications they’re taking.
Not telling your doctor exactly what you’re taking and how much can lead to them prescribing the wrong dose of a medication, and that can lead to adverse reactions.
Come to your appointments as organized and prepared as possible, with an up-to-date list of all the prescription and over-the-counter medications you take and their dosages.
“If you’re a new patient and I don’t know exactly what you’re on and how much you’re taking, I can’t accurately put together a new treatment plan for you,” Kelley said.
10. When patients don’t communicate outside of appointments.
This is particularly true when it comes to addressing ongoing health problems you may have.
“It’s unfortunate when we don’t have enough time to address every question that a patient may have,” Zhu said. “The rest can be sent over email or continued at a second visit where we’ve allocated more time. We’re always happy to help.”