How to Get the Most From Your Doctor’s Visits

If you have visited a doctor recently, you may well feel frustrated by the limited amount of time you had to discuss your health issues and concerns with your personal physician. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, physicians typically spend just 20 minutes at most with each patient they see.

Doctor with patient

Be prepared to talk with your doctor

As physician reimbursements from private insurers and the government continue to fall, doctors are forced to see more and more patients each day to cover their costs of practicing medicine. Many are predicting that doctors’ availability will become even more limited next year after the Affordable Care Act takes effect. That’s why it’s important to prepare for your doctors’ appointments as if you were preparing for a business meeting.

You will get the most value out of your doctor’s limited time when you plan ahead and come to your appointment with a clearly-outlined agenda of topics you want to address and questions you want answered before you leave your appointment.

Recommended Doctor’s Appointment Agenda

An agenda format that works well is:

  1. Your specific goal(s) for this doctor’s visit
  2. Your top three medical concerns, in order of priority
  3. Questions you have about each of your top concerns
  4. A list of medications you are currently taking and their dosages.

Following a well-planned agenda and communicating clearly with your doctor at the time of your appointment can help your doctor make an accurate diagnosis and save you time — and money — in the long run by preventing unnecessary follow-up visits and inappropriate referrals, which can greatly increase the cost of your health care.

Don’t take it personally if your doctor gets right to the point without engaging in preliminary chit chat. In today’s health care environment, doctors simply can’t indulge in social pleasantries and still keep up with the demands of their job.

Best Ways to Talk With Your Doctor

To start your conversation, state your concerns succinctly. For example:

“I have chest pain that isn’t going away, and I’d like your help today to figure out what’s happening and why.”

A doctor will generally ask when you first noticed your symptoms, how long they have lasted, what makes your symptoms better or worse, and what your symptoms feel like.

If you have a question, try to repeat what the doctor has already said to show you are paying attention to what he or she has told you already. For example:

“You said this medication should alleviate my chest pain. How will it do that, and how often should I take it?”

If you think the doctor has not adequately addressed your questions or concerns, say something like, “I appreciate your advice, but what specific course of action do you recommend for my chest pain?”

If your concerns require more time than you have to address them in a standard appointment, ask the office scheduler if it would be possible to have more time when you make your appointment. Appointment schedulers will usually do their best to arrange extended time for you.

Health Care Appointment Strategies for Elderly Patients

In cases where a caregiver or family member is accompanying an older patient to their doctor’s visit, the caregiver should gently remind the patient if he or she forgets to mention something important. If the patient is suffering from memory loss, caregivers should be sure to alert the patient’s doctor. You can do this unobtrusively by giving the nurse a note and asking her to ask the doctor to read it before entering the exam room. The note should briefly explain the patient’s situation.

Both professional and family caregivers must have what’s known as a HIPAA authorization, a release form named for a federal health privacy law, if they want to discuss a patient’s situation with the doctor outside the exam room. Patients can grant HIPAA authorizations themselves if they are mentally competent; if not, a health-care proxy can grant the authorization.

Most physicians will cooperate and answer your questions to the best of their ability within the scheduled appointment time. If your doctor resists answering your questions or acts as if you have offended him or her by challenging their authority, it may well be time to find a different doctor who is compatible with your needs and health care goals.

Recommended Additional Reading

Run Your Doctor Visit Like a Board Meeting: Patients Need to Set the Agenda in the Examining Room

About Cleansing Water, Inc.

Cleansing Water, Inc. is a Warrenton, Virginia home health care agency offering professional geriatric care and serving seniors, individuals recovering from surgery, individuals with long-term disabilities, and other clients throughout Fauquier, Culpeper, Gainesville, Haymarket, Middleburg, Prince William, Rappahannock and other Piedmont Virginia communities. We provide in-home companions, certified nursing assistants, and geriatric care managers to assist with the tasks of daily living, monitor health and medications, and ensure clients are well cared for, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

For more information about Cleansing Water’s short-term and long-term home health care services, Call (540) 341-0212 or our toll-free number, (866) 294-4665, to schedule a consultation and discuss your geriatric care and home health care options. You can also visit for more information.