Photo: ThinkstockBy Corrie Pikul
Don't Take the 11:30 A.M. Appointment on Monday
Everyone's heard that you're most likely to see your doctor on time if you book the first appointment of the day, so that slot fills up fast. Because the office will most likely fall behind schedule by the third appointment, your next best option is to snag the first slot after lunch. Keep in mind that on Mondays, the waiting room will be crowded with weekend holdovers, and on Fridays, the office will be squeezing in patients whose problems can't wait two more days. Some doctor's offices have been experimenting with open-access scheduling, which means the office blocks out periods for same-day visits. This helps offices run more efficiently (with a wait time that often beats the national average of 23 minutes).
DO ask for a midweek appointment that's not during peak mid-morning hours. Open-access scheduling is more common in a type of care model called the Patient-Centered Medical Home, so if that concept appeals to you, contact your insurance plan to find a participating provider (many plans list them on their websites).
Don't Let Your Doctor Give You the Slip
Doctors would prefer not to rush you, but they're usually double- or triple-booked and desperate to stay on schedule. Keep an eye out for the pen: Doctors have become adept at writing while walking, and will probably start heading for the door as they're jotting down your prescriptions.
DO acknowledge their scheduling stress. Elizabeth Cohen, a CNN senior medical correspondent and author of The Empowered Patient, says that phrases like "it seems like you're having a busy day" or "can I take just a few more minutes to run some questions by you?" can slow down a harried physician and bring their focus back to you.
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Don't Wait Until You're in a Paper Gown to Think About Why You're There
Most residents are taught to let the patient set the agenda, says Charles Brackett, MD, a general internist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and a clinical liaison with the university's Center for Shared Decision Making. That's why doctors often start with an open-ended statement like, "Let's talk about why you're here today." But many patients haven't thought through what they want to say ("I started feeling it last Tuesday...or was it the week before?"). Even specific follow-up questions, like "where exactly does it hurt?" can stump unprepared patients.
DO rehearse. Before the visit, think about what happened and when (consult your calendar), how to describe your symptoms (how, where and at what level you feel pain), your medical history and how you've been treating the problem, says Brackett. He suggests writing down two or three goals for your visit (e.g., to get a diagnosis or to discuss treatment options) instead of playing things by ear. Be realistic, though. "Sometimes we'll see a patient with a list of 20 goals, and most will require separate appointments," he says.
Don't Slip into Obedient Schoolgirl Mode
While most of us think that we're confident enough to disagree with our doctors, a small but interesting study recently published in the journal Health Affairs found that even relatively affluent and well-educated patients often view their doctors as authoritarian, worry about being perceived as "difficult" and hold back their opinions.
DO say what you're thinking. Very often, Brackett says, a doctor will prescribe a treatment, and a patient will decide in the office that they're not going to follow that plan but won't say anything...or they'll just switch doctors. This not only frustrates both providers (old and new) but also means that the patient's problem remains unresolved. If your insurance doesn't cover a particular treatment, or you'd rather try something else, or you don't agree with the doctor's plan, tell them ASAP, Brackett says. It's fine to take time to think it over and do more research at home, he says, but if you decide not to follow the doctor's advice, follow up promptly with the office triage nurse or the doctor directly.
KEEP READING: 3 More Mistakes We All Make Before Doctors' Appointments
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