As a physician, I get a lot of junk mail. I shudder at the number of rain forests that have been clear-cut so that I can receive glossy brochures of new medicines and esoteric conferences.
Most of the mail hits the recycling bin unread. As I skimmed one magazine recently before its inevitable freefall, I read about a consultant who explained how physicians can see 10 patients per hour. Ten patients per hour? I laughed out loud. I’m lucky if I can see three or four.
Fortunately, I have not had those kinds of expectations placed on me. But your doctor may be under pressure to see more patients and spend less time with each patient. How do you maximize the available time? Here are some tips to keep in mind for that next office visit.
First, let your provider know within the first minute or two what your priorities are. I don’t want to spend 15 minutes talking about toenail fungus, and then find out your child was in the emergency room last week for a seizure. Consider making a list of what you want to address, and share that early in the visit. Be flexible about having everything addressed. You and your doctor can determine the top priorities and hit the high points that day.
Second, bring outside records and prescriptions with you. What happened in the emergency room? And what exactly was that good-tasting pink medicine you were prescribed? This will also save time for nurses, so that they are not playing phone tag with other hospitals or clinics to get old records. By supplying your care team important information, the best decisions on future care plans can be made.
Third, use the art of paraphrasing. This is a two-way street. A good physician will briefly summarize what you’ve told him or her and “check for understanding.” As a parent, you should similarly try to paraphrase your provider’s diagnosis and treatment plan in a sentence or two at the end of the visit. This will give the provider an opportunity to clarify any element that wasn’t communicated clearly.
Fourth, be on time. I know what you’re thinking: why do I have to be on time, but the doctor is almost never on time? I try to apologize readily when I am running late, which is more often that I would like. But if you show up 10 minutes late for a 15-minute visit, that doesn’t provide us much time to address your needs.
Fifth, please limit technology. If you are answering a phone call or texting when we are talking, it makes it more difficult to obtain the information I need so we can make the best plan for your child.
Finally, and this should go without saying, try to see your own provider. Continuity of care is a hallmark of family medicine and makes for the best medicine. Do your best to see your own primary care provider whether it is for preventative care or an urgent visit.
That is, unless they happen to be at a nice conference in Hawaii. Now where did I put that glossy brochure, anyway?
* David Pommer is a family physician at Selah Family Medicine. He is married with three children. It did take him more than six minutes to write this story.