Your Health: Dealing with your doctor and the doctor’s office

Some doctors are great to talk to. They ask questions, they listen and they think. That’s exactly how all of us want our doctors to act. Unfortunately, there are far too many doctors, who do not fall within that category. Patrick Malone has a number of suggestions on how to talk to doctors in order to get the best possible care.

Doctors are very busy. As insurance reimbursements decrease, from both private insurers and Medicare/Medicaid, doctors are forced to see more patients every day in order to make a living. That means the doctor has less time to talk, examine and diagnose each patient he sees. It is all too easy for the doctor to miss something the patient says, or fails to note what could be an important symptom.

A number of patient advocates recommend that the patient prepare a written (preferably typed) list of all the issues to be covered at the appointment and that several copies of the list be brought to the appointment. A copy of the list be should be handed to everyone the patient sees and the patient should insist that the list be put into her chart. That way you can be sure that all of your concerns will be discussed and that nothing will fall between the cracks. Most doctors will appreciate your efforts since it will make for a more efficient appointment.
Next, you should take away from the doctor’s office certain information, at the very least, including: (1) a list of tests that were done and why; what medications are being started, for how long you will take them and what they are for, what you should expect the medications to do and how long it will take to get to that stage; (3) what medications are being stopped, and why; (4) problems to look out for before your next appointment; and (5) the date of your next appointment. Armed with this information, you will be better able discuss any issues that may arise after you leave the doctor’s office.

Another issue that we all have is trying to reach the doctor. It is the rare doctor who will give you her contact information and welcome calls at all hours. More common is that your only contact is the doctor’s office (or his answering service) where you will either have to leave a message or, if you are very fortunate, speak to a nurse. That may be enough on most occasions, but there are times when you believe you need to speak to a doctor. Our only advice is: DON’T BE SHY.

Get as many contact numbers as possible. In addition to the office phone number, get the fax and email address for the office. Ask your doctor what happens if you have a problem after hours. Get her cell phone number if you can. If not, at the very least get her email address.

Most people will not want to bother their doctor at night. Even if you get hold of the doctor, he won’t have the benefit of examining you, something crucial to every diagnosis. If you are sick enough to need to call the doctor at night, then you’re probably sick enough to go to the emergency room. Many medical issues can wait to the next morning, but sometimes a few hours can mean the difference between life and death.