Before visiting the doctor, consider these 5 things you may not know

A trip to the doctor’s office usually isn’t something we look forward to. Many people have shared their frustrations with me regarding their experiences with doctors, and it occurred to me that there are many things that go on behind the scenes that people may not realize.  Here are five things to know to help you avoid having a disappointing experience.

1. Doctors want to be able to spend more time with you. Frustrated on having to wait for your doctor? Well, the doctor is not always the one to blame. The current health care system rewards doctors for seeing more patients. In order to cover overhead expenses and make a profit (doctors and their staff have to eat too), doctors have to see more patients in a shorter amount of time in order to make ends meet. This leads to shorter visits, unanswered questions and may end up leading to frequent trips back to the doctor’s office. This becomes frustrating for doctors as well, who want to take the time to help, but are only able to address the priority concern.

The practice of medicine should not be an assembly line operation. People are not cars. These days people have more chronic diseases and are on more prescription medications than ever. People’s lifestyles, social issues, and mental/emotional well-being also play a role in their health, all which can’t be covered in a 15-minute appointment. Don’t forget that emergencies may come up requiring more than the allotted appointment time. So the next time you find yourself waiting for your doctor’s appointment, think about how you want to be able to get your point across without having to feel rushed, and that sometimes it takes more than 15 minutes.

2. Doctors never stop working. Our time spent on patient interaction may be limited, but our time spent working goes far beyond just an office encounter. Nearly one-half of a primary care physician’s workday is spent on work outside the exam room. We have to document thorough notes, review labs, refill prescriptions, make phone calls and fill out paperwork. This is why you may find your doctor charting the note during a visit.  Human beings also get sick and have issues after regular business hours, which is why many physicians take turns being on-call after hours. Many doctors even dream about patient care. Doctors are having to find a balance between giving patients the attention they deserve while managing efficiency.

3. Doctors do not have a license to give you what you want. It’s not uncommon to have patients self-diagnose and come to a visit asking for specific diagnostic tests, labs, and prescriptions. There is nothing wrong with being engaged in your own health and well-being. However, a doctor has to take many other things into consideration, such as whether or not the benefits of a recommendation outweigh its risks, whether or not the standard of care is being practiced, if insurance will cover a test, if there’s a medication interaction, whether or not there are potential legal ramifications involved and so on. Believe me, there is a method in the madness, and ultimately we are not going to put your life or our medical license on the line.

4. A doctor’s office is not a pharmacy. Pills are not the answer to everything. Many health issues come from an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise and other lifestyle related issues that a pill will not fix. As I like to say, pills are bandages and humans are not robots. Unfortunately, with the short amount of time we have to spend with patients, it’s almost as if a prescription for a pill is expected. Antibiotics are not the answer to everything either. Most colds are caused by viruses, and an over-prescription of antibiotics has led to a growth of organisms resistant to available antibiotics. Sometimes doing less is actually more so don’t be afraid to ask your doctor if alternative options are available.

5. Doctors have seen and heard it all. It’s very important to be upfront and honest with your doctor. Failing to leave out details because you are embarrassed about something can potentially be harmful to your health. In many cases, objective data during an exam or from lab results will end up telling its own truth. So whether it’s about erectile dysfunction, that rash, depression, or not taking your medications, we need to know about it so that we can help you take the best and safest course of action.

Ultimately your health requires a team effort. Doctors are responsible for ensuring their practices are run efficiently and with integrity. Patients will receive the most health benefits by doing their part to maintain a healthy lifestyle and take responsibility for their health. A little bit of understanding from both parties can make for a pleasant and therapeutic visit at the doctor’s office.

Aunna Pourang is a family physician and is the author of Meditate Don’t Medicate: A 14-Day Journey of Letting Go and Finding Yourself.  She can be reached at her self-titled site, Dr. Aunna Pourang, MD.

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