The average engagement time between a doctor and patient in the U.S. during an appointment is fifteen minutes!
That means patients must convey the problem, the doctor must assess, diagnose and propose a solution in fifteen minutes. Sound a little less than ideal?
How can you ensure that you get the most out of your short time with your doctor? Let’s look at the best practices.
#1 Get prepared before the visit
Schedule in advance
To get the most out of each short time slot with your doctor, you need time to prepare. The way to get that time is to setup your appointment for far enough in the future that you will be able to gather important information described here.
Use the technology you have to your advantage. Look at the calendar and give plenty of time to pull together all needed information. Have a plan for the resource(s) you will use to capture all your information in one easy to access place, such as a binder.
What questions do you have?
Make sure you write down questions you want to ask your doctor. If you don’t do this you are very likely to forget them. I recommend bullet journaling on medication and adding a page in that journal for general questions is a great idea. The goal is to keep your medication journal with your medication so that when you take meds, you can quickly jot down important notes.
If you think of a question or something is brought up in a conversation, write it down or put it in your phone. Most smart phones have a voice recording option so you don’t even have to type it out. Then later when you are taking your medication put all the notes you gathered into the medication journal.
Add a page in the journal for each disease state you have so you can organize questions by disease state. If you don’t know where is should go, put it in a miscellaneous category.
Put a priority on the questions
Some people will have lots of questions. You should do some work before your visit to group similar questions together. Also, the most important questions should be placed on the top of the list so you can make sure they get answered. There are many things to discuss in an office visit and you may not have time with your doctor to get to every question.
The rest of the healthcare team
The questions you didn’t get a chance to ask your doctor may be able to be answered by a nurse, nurse practitioner, physician assistant or pharmacist. All of these are practitioners who have several years of study in medicine and are great resources for questions.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask them the same questions that your doctor already answered to see if the answers match. Sometimes having something explained in a different way will help you understand the answer more clearly.
Make a list of healthcare providers
Many people have more than one doctor or healthcare provider. In addition to your primary care doctor, there might be specialty doctors such as dermatologist or cardiologist.
Many people forget that other providers such as pharmacist, chiropractors, physical therapist are also healthcare professionals that should be on the list you maintain. Basically, anyone who provides medical products or services to you.
Take all these name and put them in a list that includes:
- Service they provide
- Phone number
Having all this information handy when you are about to go for a doctors visit is important. This can help speed the process up if your doctor needs to get in touch with anyone about your care. It also ensures you don’t forget to tell your doctor that you are seeing another medical professional. If not told, they may be to missing a vital part of your health story.
#2 Create a medication list
According to an AARP study 75% of people over age 50 take at least one medication. More than 50% of people 65 and over take four prescription medications. These numbers are staggering and don’t even include over the counter medications!
How can you keep all your medications straight without a medication list?
Most people do not! Leading to incorrect doses and side effects.
A medication list MUST include the following elements:
- Medication name, strength and form
Example: Atorvastatin 20mg tablet
- Date started
Example: June 2019
- Color / shape
Example: red, oval
- How to take
Example: 1 tablet at lunch and 1 tablet before bedtime
- Reason for use
Example: Dr. Jones
Example: Hometown pharmacy
Click here to get your copy of a medication list with all this information in PDF format. See example below, type in the list or print it off and hand-write your information.
Make sure you list includes all your over the counter medications and any dietary supplements. Conversely, if you stopped taking a medication you need to let your doctor know why that is no longer on your medication list.
# 3 Understand disease state(s) or condition(s)
Knowledge is power. Understanding your diseases states gives you the power to do something about them. You want to go into your doctors appointments with a good understanding of what is happening with your body, in order to get the most of your doctors time.
The internet is full of information, some good and some bad. Use google to find out what you need to know, but be cautious about believing everything your read. Reputable websites such as Healthline, WebMD and Everydayhealth have a lot of good information. Anything you read you should confirm with your doctor before you take it as a total truth.
Here are questions you should research about each condition you have.
- What is the disease state(s)?
- Can you explain what causes them?
- What are the typical symptoms?
- How is it diagnosed?
- What type of doctor treats the disease?
- What are warning sings it might be getting worse?
Do you get overwhelmed?
No matter if you have high blood pressure or were just diagnosed with a life changing disease, healthcare can be confusing.
If trying to keep all of this information straight is too much for you to process, you are not alone. The best thing to do if that is the way you feel is get friend or family member to go in with you.
Make sure to pick someone who is good at remembering details or taking notes. If they have a healthcare background that is even better.
#4 Arrive early and be patient
As frustrating as it can be, most doctors offices will run behind. Make sure you arrive early enough to complete the paperwork that will be required. They will need to get the following information from you.
- Health information
- Insurance information
- Consent information
- Privacy disclosures
Filling out this paperwork is going to take you some time. They will not take you to the exam room until it is completed. Therefore, make sure you give yourself 15 minutes before the visit start time to complete this step.
Talk to staff
You will want to ask up front if the doctor is on time or running behind. If you know then you can at least prepare yourself for a wait.
Make sure they accept your insurance!
Nothing is worse than having a surprise bill come in the mail three weeks after your visit indicating the doctor is out of network and you have to pay more than you thought. You should have asked about this when you set up the appointment, but it never hurts to ask again when checking in.
#5 During the visit
Most doctors appointments will begin with you being seen by a nurse or medical assistant. They will take you to the exam room, take blood pressure and vital signs and ask about your medications. All of this information is put into the electronic medical record the office uses.
It is during this time that you will want to let them know you prepared a medication list along with other important information. Have the nurse review the medication list against the list of medication they have listed. Make sure they call out any differences and let the doctor know.
Get out your medical journal
After the nurse leaves it is time to pull out the documents you prepared. You should have:
- List of questions
- Symptom trackers
- Medication journal
The doctor arrives
Once the time comes for one on one time with your doctor set the tone for the visit right away. Let them know you have a lot of information and ask how they would like to the visit to flow.
Remember, if you researched things on the internet, that does not make them facts. Do not go in with your mind made up already on what you need to do health-wise.
Be as specific as possible when describing symptoms and feelings. Make sure you are honest with your doctor about everything. Telling them what you think they want to hear, does no good for anyone. Always be as honest as you can be, it will pay off in the long run.
Don’t be embarrassed!
Remember the information you share with your doctor or office staff is not going to end up on social media or being discussed around town. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), your medical information is protected and serious consequences exist if it is shared without your consent.
In order to get the most of your doctors visit you need to share details. Don’t keep them from your doctor because you think they are embarrassing. More than likely they have heard all of it and more before.
The time is now to soak up all the wisdom your doctor is going to provide you. Make sure you are taking notes as your doctor is explaining his or her assessment and plan.
#6 Ask clarifying questions
We already discussed having a list of questions ready to be asked. This is the time to break those out.
In addition to your pre-visit questions here are some other things to make sure you ask as well. These are questions that will clarify where you go from here.
- Is there any pre-printed information available on your disease state or medication?
- Are there foundations or support groups that are recommended?
- Can the office staff provide a visit summary?
- Do you have a patient portal to view health information?
- What is the next follow up step?
- When should my next appointment be?
#7 Be a consumer of your healthcare
Given the technology available today, most people check reviews and thoroughly research before buying. One reason for this is that information is incredibly easy to obtain on the internet. It has dawned the age of consumerism.
Unfortunately, many people don’t behave as consumers when it comes to their healthcare. You need to be your own self advocate. Research your doctor, prepare for the visit and get as much as you can from each contact with your healthcare team.
This is how you can stay healthy and spend less on healthcare!
Remember, many healthcare resources exist to help you in your journey. Picture your doctor as the quarterback who leads your healthcare team. You as the advocate of your own health are the coach.
The best health outcomes have been shown when professionals such as pharmacists, physical therapists, dietitians, social workers all work together as a team with a common goal, being guided by your doctor… the quarterback. The coach helps coordinate things and the team moves the ball down the field to score a victory against your disease.
For more actionable advice on how to save the most on medications, visit my blog for the latest updates.