Getting the Most Out of Your Doctor’s Appointments Health


The doctors are busy. It’s not a secret.

They work an average of 50 hours per week and see about 20 patients per day, according to a 2018 survey from the Physicians Foundation. In the report, 80 percent of the estimated 9,000 physicians said they were working at full capacity or felt overwhelmed.

People may not have much time with their health care provider at every appointment. A 2018 survey of primary care physicians found that 56% spent an average of less than 17 minutes with each of their patients.

We spoke with healthcare providers and County Seniors Services Division employees to find out how to make the most of this window of time.

What should I do before my doctor’s appointment?

In the days leading up to your visit, act like a Boy Scout and be prepared.

First things first: Plan your appointments with a goal in mind, said Michelle Shaffer, physician assistant specializing in family medicine at Frederick Health. Do you have questions about a type of medication? A new symptom? Sharing this information will help staff members plan the right type of appointment for you and book the right time, Shaffer said.

Speaking of the time, patients often have a long wait in front of them in doctors’ offices – between 19 and 41 minutes, said Mary Collins, health care program coordinator in the county’s division of elderly services. Scheduling appointments early in the morning or right after lunch can help cut that time, Collins said.

Remember, lists are your friends. Before arriving for your appointment, prepare a list of all the medications you are taking and the doctor who prescribed them. This will help prevent what’s called “polypharmacy,” said Dolly Kemerer, clinical assistant professor in the nursing department at Towson University, or the use of multiple drugs to treat a single disease or condition.

“One doctor prescribes one thing, another doctor prescribes another thing, and oh oh, they prescribe the same,” Kemerer said. “It’s a generic name compared to a trade name. “

You should also make lists of your allergies, symptoms, prescriptions you need to refill, and any questions you have for your doctor.

Shaffer said don’t forget to complete any lab tests your supplier ordered at your previous appointment before your next visit.

I need a taxi for my appointment. Who can help me?

Partners In Care, a nonprofit organization located at Willowtree Plaza in Frederick, provides rides for seniors in the county who might not otherwise be able to make non-urgent medical appointments or make it to the grocery store, barbershop. or at the pharmacy. Request a free ride at

Golden Care of Frederick also provides transportation at a subsidized rate to low-income seniors. For more information visit

Any general advice on how to get the most out of a date?

Collins encourages seniors and their caregivers to maximize every interaction with staff while visiting the doctor. Ask the person taking your vital signs questions – if they don’t know the answer, they’ll let you know. And you might be able to cross some things off your list.

Shaffer said communication is the key. Often, patients do not take medication as prescribed, for one reason or another. Maybe they can’t afford it, or they don’t like its side effects. Either way, she said it’s important to be honest with your doctor so that he doesn’t unknowingly overprescribe a medication or unnecessarily change your recommended dose.

She also suggests making follow-up appointments before you leave the office, so you don’t forget.

Collins wants people to know that there is no need to stress about making a decision on the spot. “Sometimes I think we all put that pressure on ourselves, like, ‘Oh my God, before I go here today, I have to decide,'” she said. “You don’t. You can determine what is in your best interest.

When my doctor asks me if I have any questions, my mind goes blank. How can I prevent this from happening?

It all comes down to making lists.

Collins always laughs at herself when she shows up for dates, as she tends to keep a sticky note on her hand with questions for her provider. She suggests keeping a shopping list in your kitchen or another place in your home where you can take notes and questions as they arise between appointments.

If you have an injury or other type of acute symptom, Collins suggests taking notes on the pain or sensation you experience as it inflames so that you can describe it as well. precisely as possible to your doctor.

Shaffer says she loves it when a patient comes to an appointment with a list of questions. Sometimes she will ask to see their list to help them prioritize.

“A patient might say he has a pain in his toe because No. 1 and No. 10 are chest pain,” she said. “I could say, ‘Oh, let’s start with this one! Tell me about it.

What should I do if I don’t understand something my doctor is telling me?

Regarding this issue, Shaffer believes it is the responsibility of the healthcare provider to read a patient’s body language and realize that they are confused. This is one of the reasons she says it’s so important for patients to schedule regular wellness visits with their primary care physicians, so that they can build a relationship with that person when they are. do not have an acute symptom requiring immediate attention.

Either way, a good way for a patient to deal with confusion is to ask their doctor if they can repeat an explanation or a series of instructions to them, Shaffer said.

If you’re feeling nervous asking your doctor questions or clarifying any misunderstandings, Kemerer says you shouldn’t hesitate to practice before your appointment. Invite a friend or family member to play a role.

“It’s your body and your health. Anything you don’t understand, whether it’s medicine you are taking [or] a diagnosis, ”she said,“ empower yourself to ask these questions. “

I don’t feel like my health care provider takes me seriously. What should I do?

If this happens, Shaffer says the best course of action is to speak with the provider first who makes you feel this way.

A simple communication problem could be to blame or your doctor could just be having a bad day, she said. Most providers would be upset to learn that a patient had a frustrating experience with them and would take steps to remedy the situation, she said.

But if talking about things doesn’t work, or if that experience becomes a model, Shaffer suggests switching providers.

“It’s so important that patients feel comfortable and feel like they are being heard,” she said.

Any advice for caregivers and family members?

Before arriving for an appointment, Collins said caregivers should make sure the person they are accompanying has all the tools they need to maximize their experience at their doctor’s office. Do they have their hearing aids? Eyeglasses? Is there an interpreter for them, if they need it?

It also helps limit confusion if a family designates a “reference person” to communicate with their loved one’s health care provider, rather than having two or three loved ones calling to provide information, Shaffer said.

Collins encourages caregivers to avoid answering questions from the person they are accompanying to an appointment. She added that they should also respect that person’s privacy and dignity. Leave the room for a while if you can tell the person you are caring for is uncomfortable.

“Allow them to participate and guide their own care,” she said. “I really think it’s important.”

What else do health care providers want me to know?

Ultimately, Shaffer encourages people not to be shy around their doctors. They are on the same wavelength. They want the patient to have a thorough understanding of their health care and to have a good experience in the doctor’s office.

“We put our pants on one leg at a time like everyone else,” she said.

Kemerer agreed. Treat providers like partners in your health, she said. They won’t experience a symptom or side effect of a medication if you don’t tell them. Nothing is unimportant. “We are a team,” she said.

Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @ 24_angier

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