I love being a family doctor, I really do. I love the patients, and the stories, and the excuses and the smiles.
But, I’ve got to tell you, as much as I love helping people through their medical issues and, occasionally, making them feel better, all doctors run into few types of patients who drive us bananas.
And, as the Affordable Care Act (which you may know as Obamacare) has opened up health-care to a much larger pool of Americans who will soon be scheduling appointments and showing up to a doctor’s office with various aches and pains, let me offer a few tips to make that visit as pleasant as possible.
Please keep in mind that I say these with affection, but I do hope you are taking notes. (I hope my patients are reading this as well).
1. The “That Little Green Pill” Patient
If you don’t know your medications, we might be in big trouble.
I often ask patients what meds they’re taking. Many will give me a blank stare and then start to describe their pills. “The little blue pill”, “the square white one,” “the yellow capsule,” they’ll say. I went to medical school and residency, but I’m sorry, I don’t know shapes and colors of your pills.
It’s important that you know your medications by name—preferable by generic and brand name—because not knowing your medications can lead to you taking the wrong medications, duplicate medications, and, in rare cases, this could be deadly..
As your family physician, it is important that I know you are actually taking the medications that I think you are taking. So, next time, before you come in, make a list of your meds and keep this list in your wallet or purse (this is also helpful if you have to go to the hospital for any reason). If a list isn’t your style, at least throw all of your pill bottles in a bag and bring them to your office visit. We’ll sort it out there.
2. The “You’re Late Again!” Patient
Sometimes I run behind. I hate that this happens, but it does. Many of us docs do at some point during the day. Is it annoying for patients? Yes. Is your time valuable? Yes. Do we, your physicians, understand? Yes.
But the truth is there’s often a good reason why we’re late.
“You know, doc,” the patient says. “There’s one more thing I wanted to talk to you about… You see, I’ve been having these chest pains….”
Sometimes when I am seeing a patient I have to take a moment to obtain lab results or radiology studies, or I might need to call a consulting physician on the phone during the visit. If those tests were yours, wouldn’t you want me to take that extra time?
And, from time to time, you’ve been late too. Don’t forget when patients are late it often puts us behind schedule, and that can magnify over the course of the day.
I don’t want it to sound like I’m making excuses. I value your time. I really do. And if your doctor is always late, or rude, or indifferent, well… maybe it’s time to move on. But, for those of us who aren’t, please try to understand. We’re doing the best we can.
3. The “Can I Have My Forms Now?” Patient
Ah, the dreaded paperwork.
As a family physician, I often fill out paperwork for my patients to help with disability coverage, obtain handicap placards, or for insurance purposes, among many other reasons.
Paperwork is very important. It is often directly related to your income or livelihood and I take it very seriously. But it takes time. Please remember that paperwork (especially when we get pages and pages and pages of it) requires time to complete. If you need paperwork completed, no problem, but please understand when I tell you that it may not be done within our 15-minute office visit.
4. The “Oh, And One More Thing…” Patient
It happens to every doctor. I’ve finished my office visit with the patient and am standing up, headed for the door. I smile and say, “It was great to see you, we’ll see you back in three months,” and I reach for the door-knob.
And then it comes….
“You know, doc,” the patient says. “There’s one more thing I wanted to talk to you about…you see, I’ve been having these chest pains….”
We spent an entire visit together talking about this, that, and the other and you didn’t mention a word about chest pain. Then you mention it as I am on my way out of the door?
Some medical conditions are easier to deal with than others at the last minute, but the real issue here is that in order to properly and thoroughly treat whatever is going on we need time. As physicians, we need to ask questions, do a physical exam and perform any necessary office testing (like an EKG).
We also need to determine a plan of action with you and provide counseling. When you bring up a health issue at the last minute it’s simply not fair to you.
If you have a medical problem that you would like to bring up, please do so early in the visit.
If you tend to forget, write your health concerns down on a piece of paper and bring it with you. On the other hand, if you’re embarrassed or reluctant to discuss your medical issues for whatever reason, please give this some thought before you get to your appointment. Our job is to help. Please don’t wait until the last minute to bring up important matters.
Oh, and this is one of the situations that causes us docs to run behind (see #2).
5. The “Throw Grandma From the Car” Person
Do you care for a relative who has a hard time getting to the doc by themselves? Do you bring them to the doctor and go into the exam room with them for their appointment?
If you answered yes to both questions you can skip to #6. If you answered “yes” to the first question but “no” to the second, then guess what?
We need to talk.
If you “drop off” grandma at the office, and then take off to run your other errands, that may not be best for grandma—or the doctor. Think about it this way. If, say, your loved one has memory problems and doesn’t remember your name on most days, they probably won’t remember mine, either. If she isn’t able to articulate her symptoms, her medications (see #1) and other details, this could make or break her diagnosis. Please come into the office appointment with your loved one and help them with the important details. Or just hold her hand. The doctor’s office can be a scary place.
6. The “The Internet Says So” Patient
I love it when my patients take an active interest in their health. I want patients to understand their medical condition, medications and treatment options.
But, don’t believe everything you read. The Internet is filled with lots of amazing information. Unfortunately, not all of it is true or applicable to your particular situation.
I am not asking you to stop searching for health information online. I am just asking you to let me help. Talk to me about the websites you are getting your information from. I can tell you if they are any good or suggest better places to look for reliable information.
7. The Secretive Patient
If you stopped taking your blood pressure meds because they were too expensive, they made you nauseous or you just don’t want to “take another pill,” don’t hide it. Tell me. If you’ve been having that weird pain or feel a new lump, tell me. If you really didn’t schedule your colonoscopy like we discussed (and you agreed to) because you are actually afraid, tell me. If you are struggling with something (ANYTHING)— you lost your job, a loved one died, or you just can’t shake the depression you’ve been feeling, TELL ME!
As your physician, I want to help you live the healthiest life possible. I understand that life is not always easy, and talking about those difficulties can be hard. I also know that your worries, fears, joys, and pains may affect your overall health. But, I only know what you tell me. It’s important that we have open and honest communication. So tell me what’s on your mind.
I want to know, and ultimately, it will help me to help you.