Contributing Author: Alice Krueger
Research into doctor-patient communication has shown that the average time a doctor listens to a patient before interrupting is between 12 and 23 seconds. That’s not enough time for anyone to express their concerns about their health and wellness.
What can you do to address this situation? Part of the answer lies in your preparation, and the rest in how you act while in the doctor’s office.
Before the date of the office visit, write down your concerns and questions. Update your note to yourself as more thoughts come to you that you might want to share. Prioritize everything on your list. You probably won’t have time to go through the whole set of concerns in one visit, so be sure the most important issues are addressed first.
When the doctor enters the exam room, offer a handshake and friendly short greeting. This helps make an honest human connection. Doctors generally respond well to common courtesies.
It is important that you understand everything the doctor is saying to you. Don’t hesitate to ask her to repeat what she said, or you can say it back to her in your own words and ask if that is correct. You also can ask her to put it in writing, especially is she’s using specialized terminology.
Many doctors have email accounts, so ask yours for the address where you can send questions that you think of after the appointment ends.
You always have the right to a second opinion, of diagnoses and of suggested treatments. Ask your doctor if he would recommend someone to provide a second opinion. Be suspicious if he says you don't need one, or only suggests others in his group practice.
It’s important to be honest with your doctor. Let her know if you can’t afford the suggested treatment. She may have options that would be more affordable. Also, tell her if for some reason you can’t follow her directions. If she’s recommending three sessions a week and transportation is an issue, speak up. If she says you should quit smoking, and you’re tried and failed several times before, admit it.
Last but not least, be sure your doctor is aware of your Advance Directive. Ask him if he has a copy in your file. If he’s not sure, hand him another printed copy. And then give the receptionist another copy on the way out and ask him to put it in your record.
With these preparations and actions, your doctor is more likely to hear what you have to say.