The length of face-to-face time with your doctor during a visit to his or her office averages less than twenty minutes. That time is crucial, so it is important to maximize the time spent—for both you and your doctor—and that responsibility is a shared one that will take some time and effort before, during, and after your office visit.
Generally, people are more satisfied with their health care if they share the responsibility with their health professionals. While it is true that your health professional is an expert on medical care, you are the expert on yourself and your input is essential—but you must be actively involved.
One family physician recently blogged that he sees 30-40 patients a day, 5 days a week, due to a high patient load. And he’s not complaining—he is simply stating (from his perspective) that office visits are on a tight schedule, both from the patient’s viewpoint and the doctor’s. He goes on to say that one of his biggest concerns is that patients come in for their office visits and do not know their own state of health. His suggestion (simply put) is this: “Know your own health.” Research, read, discuss, and be proactive.
By proactively partnering with your health professional, you can help choose options that best fit your values, beliefs, and lifestyle—and by having input into any decisions you will feel more confident about carrying out the chosen lifestyle changes, dietary changes, and/or treatment.
How to Be a Proactive Patient
A proactive patient is an informed one who finds a good health professional and health facility, does independent research using reliable sources, and asks detailed, relevant questions.
Let’s face it: your doctor can’t make you healthy. That’s up to you.
Fifteen minutes with your doctor during an office call will not create a lifetime of wellness for you. Your health is determined how you live out your life the rest of the time—on a daily basis!
However, here are some tips for when you have a doctor visit:
- Carefully select your healthcare professional: You want the best care, so choose carefully.
- Get a recommendation from a trusted friend, family member, co-worker, healthcare professional, or neighbor. Many times, patients need to see physicians who participate in their health insurance’s "network" of doctors. In this case, asking a co-worker who carries the same insurance can be a good approach.
- Do a background check. Once a doctor has been identified, visit the American Medical Association’s (AMA) website (http://www.ama-assn.org/) and perform a search. The AMA is the largest medical society in the United States. Its website provides useful information on 650,000 member and nonmember doctors of medicine (MD) and doctors of osteopathy or osteopathic medicine (DO).
- Ask questions. Call the doctor’s office and ask about the doctor’s patient load, how long it generally takes to get an appointment, the average wait time at the office, etc. Also, if you have health insurance, be sure to verify that the doctor accepts a particular insurance prior to scheduling an appointment.
- Consider the medical facility. If treatment requires time in a medical facility, then research the facility. A doctor may be affiliated with or located in a particular hospital or facility, so ask the doctor for the best facility in the area for the specialty.
- Be prepared. Research the health concern; use reliable print or online sources before you get to your appointment. Be sure to write down your questions and bring any research you have found. If you are unsure of a condition, then try searching by symptoms to get an idea of possible diagnoses and read about any diagnostic tests/ treatments for the condition. An informed patient asks relevant questions and receives relevant, detailed answers. After your appointment, continue your research using the information the doctor has provided.
- Try to bring past medical records to a new doctor whenever possible. This saves time for you and for your doctor.
Andrew Gottschalk, BS; Susan A. Flocke, PhD. Time Spent in Face-to-Face Patient Care and Work Outside the Examination Room. Posted 1/03/2006. Available at: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/519861
AOL Body. Content provided by Healthwise. “Making the Most of Your Appointment: Overview.” Available at: http://body.aol.com/health-concern/making-the-most-of-your-appointment/overview
Butler, John., M.D. and Keller, Vaughn, Ed. D. Managed Care Magazine. A Better Office Visit for Doctor and Patient. 1999. Available at: http://www.managedcaremag.com/archives/9905/9905.bayercomm.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, 2005 Summary; Vital and Health Statistics. No. 387, June 29, 2007 http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad387.pdf
Health: Maximize the Time Spent with Your Physician. Available at: http://lifehacker.com/software/health/maximize-the-time-spent-with-your-physician-278554.php
Imaginis. How to Get the Most from Your Care. Available at: http://www.imaginis.com/womenshealth/patient.asp