Center for Pain and Supportive Care: Don't let doctor visit go to waste

For anyone who has had a doctor's appointment within the past year, chances are they felt rushed by the doctor, frustrated that they didn't have enough time to communicate their symptoms or confused by the diagnosis and course of action once the appointment was over.

Physicians all over the country are seeing more patients than ever before, severely limiting the amount of time spent one-on-one with a patient. Five minutes, on average, is the length of time the doctor is actually in the room during an appointment.

Here are tips from Dr. Lisa Stearns on how to make the most of your 5 minutes:

#1: Know what you want to achieve before your visit. Before your appointment, make a prioritized list of no more than five items of what you hope to achieve during the visit. Spend the majority of your appointment discussing your top two concerns and schedule a follow-up appointment to answer the other items on your list. Before you leave, let your doctor know what these remaining items are so he or she can plan ahead and/or schedule tests, if needed. By doing this, you and your doctor will be able to focus on what is most important and not be side tracked.

#2: Ask for a clinical synopsis after your appointment. There are multiple ways to ensure you do not miss any important information during your visit. With the introduction of technology at many doctors' offices, patients can now ask for a clinical synopsis that covers all items discussed during the appointment. In some cases, you can even have it emailed to you. If that option is not yet available by your doctor, ask if you can tape record your visit. Another idea - bring a friend or family member for a second set of ears. At the end of your appointment, make sure to repeat what you heard from your doctor to ensure the information you are taking away is correct.

#3: Be honest. This may seem like a given, but more often than not, a patient will leave out details, either because they are embarrassed to share, or they think it's irrelevant. The truth is, it's always important to tell your doctor everything. The top items you should always answer are whether you are a smoker, your nutrition and exercise habits, any medications you are taking, including over-the-counter, and how often you take these medications. Make a list of this information and give it to the nurse upon arrival.

#4: Be concise. The more you can condense your information, the faster you and your doctor will be on the same page. Bring in a chronologically organized binder of your previous health records, test results and X-rays. Be specific when describing your concerns and tell your doctor what you have been experiencing while using an accurate timeline. An example is, "I have had upper abdominal pain for six months and now it has moved to the back. Antacids haven't helped and I have lost weight without trying." It is important to tell your doctor about patterns of behavior, how long you've been taking medication in response to your illness, and what has or has not worked in the past.

#5: Establish goals for your next yearly wellness exam. Many patients do not understand the importance of setting goals or expectations for the following year during an annual wellness exam. What health goals do you want to achieve within the next year? What goals does your doctor have for you? When you and your doctor come to an agreement on what you would like to accomplish, such as quitting smoking, lowering your cholesterol or losing weight, you will be able to set forth a joint plan on how to achieve these goals.

Center for Pain and Supportive Care
4611 E. Shea Boulevard, Building 3, Suite 190 
Phoenix, Arizona 85028

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