The simple thing patients can do to help doctors run on time


It happens all too often. I am done with a visit and wrapping things up. Sometimes my hand is even on the doorknob to leave the room. Then the patient says it. “Oh, by the way, doctor …” This is inevitably followed by some symptom they have that is serious and needs further attention. The classic case is when it is chest pain, a grave symptom that needs to be worked up and typically takes an extra 30 minutes at least.

This is frustrating, to say the least. As doctors, we are trained to recognize serious problems and not ignore them. But when tacked on to the end of an already complete visit, this can lead to getting behind on the day’s schedule (which is unfair to other patients) and frustration directed at the patient.

Let me take a sidebar here and talk about a doctor’s schedule.

Unfortunately, we are notoriously known for making our patients wait. I’m sure you have had your fair share of waiting in the waiting room only to be moved into the exam room where you wait some more. In some offices, this process can be more than an hour. I despise this! I do not want to be lumped into the same boat as these doctors. Yes, my time is valuable, but I respect my patients and their time. The patient and I are a team, and we work together. This is built on mutual respect which can only come when I show regard for their time as well. They are taking time out of their busy schedules to come and see me. Because of this (and a mild case of OCD on my part), I do my best not to let my patients wait. In the rare case that somebody does wait, I apologize profusely and try to find a way to make it better.

Back to the “oh by the way” moment. I get behind, which is annoying, and some of this can bubble up and be directed at the patient. This is not right, and I try to recognize this and combat it. I do what I can on my end, but some preparation on my patient’s part can help the situation. So how can you as a patient avoid this problem?

The solution is actually quite simple. Make a list! Before your appointment with your doctor, make a list of all the concerns you have. When it comes time for the appointment, and your doctor comes in the door, hand him or her the list.

Allow your doctor to prioritize this list according to what they feel is most urgent or concerning. You can mention the items you feel most concerned about, and the doctor can take this into consideration. Work together to come up with a plan that you both feel comfortable with. If the list is long, the doctor may want to schedule another appointment to be able to address all of the concerns. Be open to this.

That’s it! It’s quite simple and can avoid any bitter feelings developing between your doctor and you. The biggest thing is always having a trusting relationship with open and honest communication with your doctor. Be sure to check out my post on how to find a doctor like that here. Try this at your next appointment and let me know how it went in the comments below. Best wishes!

Gawayne Vaughan is a family physician who blogs at DrGreenKnight.

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