I'm not trying to be facetious with this post. Some posts like this can be cynical and demeaning to patients. I will try my best to honestly say what can help and hinder a person from getting the most out of their visits to the doctor.
Things to do:
1. Think about your symptoms and have your story down. Some people are better at story-telling than others, but it makes it so much harder for the doctor to diagnose you if you don't have your story straight. Has it been 3 days or 3 weeks? What does the pain feel like? What makes it better or worse? Does this remind you of something else? So on and so forth. I know patients try, but it is amazing how many cannot help me by telling me what is going on when I ask.
2. Let me know what you are worried about. Neither of us will leave a visit feeling satisfied and complete if your deepest, darkest concern wasn't addressed in the visit. If I don't ask what you are worried about, tell me.
3. Bring in your actual medication bottles. It helps me to know what you are taking- over the counter and prescribed. Sometimes, we can actually FIX problems by stopping meds...novel idea, huh?
4. Know your medical history. Sometimes this is the fault of the medical system, I know. We should be arming our patients with their own histories and speaking the diagnosis in a way that can be understood by anybody. But still, you should be able to remember when your last colonoscopy or heart cath was...and the names of your most important doctors.
5. Request your medical records ahead of time. If you are transferring care, ask your old doctor's office to send records- or go to the new office and ask to sign a release and have them fax it to the old doctor. It helps get your first visit moving along if the old records are already there.
6. Keep your chronic health follow-up appointments. We need to have visits just dedicated to your diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Those visits shouldn't be intermingled with "Oh by the way, I have this strange spot here that I just wanted to see if you could take off today." Sometimes our agendas need to match up...and sometimes my agenda should trump yours-but not too often.
7. Ask for office policies, hours, and how acute issues are handled. If I don't tell you these things ahead of time, it empowers you as a patient to know.
8. Use the same pharmacy for all of your prescriptions. Pharmacies often call to make sure I know that this can interact with that or the doctor across town who is a specialist had already given you that drug that was related to the one I just sent. They are another safety net in our messed-up healthcare system, but if a patient runs to 3 pharmacies for different things, nobody has the true picture.
Things NOT to do:
1. Don't call the office asking to be seen for every cough, cold, or sniffle. If it seems you are in the office too frequently with self-limited and common complaints, it is hard to know when you are truly sick. Kinda like the boy who "cried wolf" too much. If it seems like the common cold, it probably is. I take people who only come to the office when they are feeling poorly much more seriously when they DO come in than people who come with every ache and pain.
2. Don't barrage your doctor with more than 3-4 complaints. Honestly, my brain can't effectively take care of more than 3 or 4 things at a time. Either I will focus on one and ignore the others or glaze over them all and do a poor job with all of them. I want to be able to be thorough, and I have limits. Identify your top few concerns and don't be upset if I ask you to make another appointment to address the other things.
3. Don't mention a serious health concern when I think that we are wrapping up the visit. Like, for example...as I am reaching for the door knob to leave, please don't say, "Yesterday, I had this crushing chest pain that came on after I climbed the stairs." DON'T DO THIS! I feel like most people should know better than to just casually mention something like chest pain, but they do.
4. Don't go to the ER during office hours. Unless you think you have broken something, or think you have had a stroke, or are bleeding out, or think you are having a heart attack. There are probably a few other reasons that would make it ok to go to the ER during office hours...but not many.
5. Don't go to the ER in the middle of the night. Unless you think you have broken something, or think you have had a stroke, or are bleeding out, or think you are having a heart attack. You get the picture. There is usually an on-call doctor or an after-hours service that will answer phone calls...and often can save you (or our government) an expensive ER bill.
6. Don't call asking to be worked in the same day for things that aren't acute issues. Ok, your kid is supposed to be starting football tomorrow but hasn't had a physical. Since when does an urgency on your part make it in emergency on mine? What better lesson in responsibility and planning for the future than telling your kid you messed up and failed to plan and so they are going to have to sit the bench? Your wrist has been hurting for 2 months? Don't be mad that it is going to take another week to schedule an appointment.
7. Don't spend 10 minutes describing a problem to me and then not let me do anything to help it. Sometimes people tell me about one complaint or another and then when I start to suggest what we can do or try, they don't want to do anything. I want to scream at them, "Why did you just waste my (and your) time, then!?!"
8. Don't make an appointment and no-show or call at the last minute to cancel. At some offices, they charge you anyhow or threaten to "fire you" as a patient. Not at my office...but, when you do that, you are taking the place of somebody who maybe really, really needed to be seen that day.