Doctor Shares Tips for Being Heard During Medical Visits
- I am a board-certified family medicine physician, meaning I care for everyone from newborn age up.
- I also see doctors myself, so I have been on both ends of the conversation.
- I recommend people make a list of questions to address ahead of time because it’s easy to forget.
Have you ever left a doctor’s appointment and said, “I forgot to ask about that!” or worse, “I don’t think my doctor was listening to me”? In the middle of a season full of influenza, RSV, COVID-19, and all the other usual diseases and illnesses, it’s essential that your healthcare provider understands how you feel.
I’ve experienced medical visits as both patient and a physician, and learned a lot about making those visits go smoothly. Here are my tips for your next appointment.
Make sure you book the right type of appointment
When you make the appointment, accurately describe what it’s for so the staff can schedule your visit appropriately. A wellness visit lasts 30 to 40 minutes, but a problem visit — like a visit for a sore throat or a UTI — is generally only 10 minutes.
Patients often mistakenly assume that once they’re at the appointment, they can address other complaints and problems. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. If you make an appointment for your indigestion and then try to talk about your depression, your doctor won’t have time.
Come with a written list so you don’t forget anything
Next, make a list of your questions and concerns beforehand. You will undoubtedly forget something if you try to remember it all during the visit. Also, consider what your provider might need to know, including how long your problem has been going on, and what makes it better or worse. If you come prepared with answers, things will be much smoother for both of you.
Some offices have an online portal where you can add this kind of information ahead of time. Make use of it if yours does. This allows your doctor to start thinking about you before you come into the office.
Most healthcare providers have a checklist of things that insurance companies require at each visit. A simple comment at the beginning of the visit lets your healthcare provider know you have an agenda, too, and they can adjust their mental plan accordingly. “I know you have a list of things to talk about today, but I want to address a few things, too.” Your doctor wants to address your list, but the time to let them know you have one is not after they’re headed for the door at the end of the visit. That last minute, “Oh, and doctor, one more thing…” is unlikely to be fruitful. Once they get up from their computer, they’re mentally moving on.
Follow up on your issues
Finally, send a follow-up note. It’s not to thank them — though that’s a nice thing to do — but to let them know whether your problems improved with the treatment provided or whether you have been able to follow through with their suggestions. This helps them get to know you better and understand your health issues more thoroughly.
Remember, you and your doctor are a team; your visits should reflect that. With these simple tips and a little advanced preparation, there’s less of a chance you’ll leave your visits feeling unheard.