How To Lower Health Dangers: Get More Out Of Your Doctor’s Appointment Through Better Communication

We all know the frustration: you walk into the doctor’s office for your appointment with the doctor or nurse practitioner. You wait for 15 minutes, 30 minutes, maybe an hour. And when you’re finally in the room, you get 10 minutes in which your healthcare provider looks at your chart, asks for your “main complaint” and then writes a prescription or sends you to another specialist or tells you that there isn’t anything much that can be done.

Believe it or not, your healthcare provider finds it frustrating, too. People who become health care workers do so because they want to provide help and care, but new health care systems and higher patient loads make it increasingly difficult to do so.

How Can I Get More Out Of My Doctor’s Appointment?

As a patient, you can help make the appointment a positive experience for yourself, just by following these tips:

1. Before your next appointment, create a small notebook that’s your dedicated to your health: a “healthbook.” Don’t use it for shopping or to-do lists – it’s dedicated to the precious resource of your health.

2. Your healthbook should have an updated list of include the medications you are on, what they are for, and how much you take, including over the counter drugs; bring this list to every appointment.

3. If there’s a list of things you’re coming in for, tell the physician right away; the two of you should decide what can be managed on this visit and what should to wait.

4. Make sure you know what you’ve made the appointment for. Date a healthbook page and write down your needs and questions before you go.

5. Ask provider to write complex medical terms and drug names in your healthbook; if needed ask what they mean. If you’d like a diagram to help explain, your healthbook can be used for that, as well.

6. Tell the truth about what’s going on, even if the problem is embarrassing or hard to describe. If you’re not sure why you’re being asked something , ask!

7. Find out what services your doctor’s office offers: online copies of your records or test results? A special help-line or nurse practitioners to help with refills? Find out so that you don’t need to deal with those things during your precious time in the office.

8. Outside of the office, learn about your health. What does it mean to have high blood pressure? Ask for booklets your doctor provides; read books geared towards patients; many local libraries will have videos on various conditions.

9. If you have a condition that may make communication difficult (e.g. you are hearing- or sight-impaired) or English is a difficult language for you, make sure that you bring a friend or relative who knows the communication ropes to your appointment, especially if this is the first time you’ve visited with this doctor.

10. Last but not least, remember that your healthcare provider likes working with patients – you can work together to have satisfying, helpful appointments!

“Eleven things you should talk to your doctor about,” Harvard Health Letter, Volume 29, issue 5, March 2004

“A Day Spent Learning How To Satisfy Patients,” Managed Care Magazine, September 1997

Cherry D.K., et al. “National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey: 2001 Summary,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Volume 337, p 1-44, 2003

Gross, D.A., et al”Patient satisfaction with time spent with their physician” Journal of Family Practice, August, 1998