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Surprising Science

How to Make the Most Out of Your Doctor Visit

Most people have their doctor’s ear for about 10 minutes during a routine examination. It’s vital to prepare a strategy that will get most if not all of your questions answered.

During a typical visit to the doctor’s office — after all the time spent waiting — you’d be lucky to get your physician’s ear for 10, maybe 15 minutes total. Elizabeth Renter of U.S. News says it’s unfair to blame doctors for the recent shift that has them listening less. She identifies this as a symptom of a more complex situation that has levied upon physicians a surplus of “conflicting task priorities.” It’s the sort of thing Big Think expert Michael Vassar decried in a recent video interview that I’ve embedded below.

According to Vassar, making doctors execute protocol without any room for critical analysis represents a dangerously misguided pursuit of “efficiency.” Whether or not that indictment is steeped in merit, various surveys and research efforts provided by Renter do signal a gradual silencing of patients:

“A classic study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that patients were allowed to finish their “opening statement of concerns” in only 23 percent of doctors’ visits. A more recent analysis found patients speak for an average of only 12 seconds before being interrupted by resident physicians.”

The overall thrust of Renter’s piece is a how-to guide for making the most of your 10-15 minutes. She says you should come prepared with the questions you want to ask ranked by priority. If you run out of time, don’t hesitate to ask for another appointment. Time is at a premium for a doctor, but comfort and knowledge are at a premium for you. Renter also mentions that many doctors prefer to communicate over e-mail because it allows them a level of freedom in shaping a response, so perhaps ask your doctor if they would be okay with you lobbing questions over the web. Finally, Renter supports the idea of patients bringing along an advocate to help facilitate communication, particularly if said patient is elderly:

“When a caring son or daughter is present, for instance, [PinnacleHealth Chief Medical Officer Nirmal] Joshi says the expectations are very high, and he is most likely to respond in kind. In other words, the added person can serve as a medical advocate for the patient who may otherwise just accept that ‘doctor knows best.’”

Of course, with all this said, it’s important not to enter the doctor’s office poised to offer a contrarian view to everything. Renter’s tips are for concocting a strategy that will allot you the most knowledge in the short time you have with your physician. If you’re wondering what kinds of questions to ask, research any symptoms you may be exhibiting and jot down any issues you’ve had or fear you’ll develop in the future. There’s also the topic of how much medical care you should be receiving overall, a topic recently covered by my colleague Orion Jones

Read more at U.S. News.

Photo credit: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock


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