Daunted by doctors? Here are 6 tips for a smooth appointment!
We all have had our share of unsuccessful experiences with doctors and at medical clinics and a lot of times we feel intimidated by them. But after a lifetime of interacting with doctors, one realizes that there is nothing to be scared of. Here are six strategies to help minimize the odds you’ll be intimidated
1. Remember who’s working for who, agreed, they provide a highly valuable service to society, but in the end you’re the one paying the bill, i.e. you’re the boss.
This doesn’t mean that you can order them to do whatever you want. But they work for you in the same sense that a lawyer or an accountant or even a hairdresser does. Why is it so easy for us to forget this? Maybe it’s due to a combination of factors. First, it’s their “house” not yours and in general the atmosphere never really keeps you at ease, coupled with the fact that if you’re at the doctor’s office, you are probably unwell in some way. Second, because you go seeking help, it can feel as if they have all the knowledge and all the power, even though you often know more about your medical condition than they do. Third, you are often at your weakest in the doctor’s office. The trip to get there followed by the typical waiting times—first in the waiting room and then in the examination room—can take its toll.
2. Consider taking someone with you.
Another person’s presence is beneficial for several reasons. You feel less intimidated because you know that there is an ally with you. In addition and this is just observation but usually when doctors see another person is with you, they become more attentive to what you say and are also more forthcoming with information and explanations.
3. Bring a list to the appointment.
Seven minutes is usually the average amount of time you get with the doctor. Most doctors are clearly working “on the clock.” You can sense it when they walk into the room. The best way to manage this is to bring a list of what you want to raise and have it visible to the doctor when he or she enters the room.
The list serves several purposes. First, it helps you manage your own time so you don’t linger on one item too long, or stray off onto something. Second, when doctors see the list, they often prompt you from it by saying, “Okay. What’s next on your list?” Most doctors appreciate that you’ve thought about the appointment ahead of time and structured your time together. It keeps you both focused on the task at hand, and you know that when you’re done with the list, you’re done with the appointment.
4. Let the doctor be the expert but don’t be afraid to ask questions. Although doctors work for you (always remember that!), you are seeking them out for their expertise, so go with an open mind and with the assumption that they are knowledgeable and are seeking the best outcome for you. That said; don’t be shy about asking questions, including what alternative treatments are available. There’s a practical reason for doing the latter. Doctors are often thinking about alternatives—just not out loud! When you ask questions, it encourages them to talk to you about what’s going on in their heads and that’s something you want to be a party to.
5. Repeat back your understanding of the plan of action.
When you sense your time is up, ask the doctor to give you a brief feedback about the appointment. For example, you might say: “To be sure I understand you correctly; you want me to start this new medication, get a blood test in a week, and return in two weeks.” I’ve had too many appointments where I get to the car afterward and neither my husband nor I can remember some important detail of what happened. The risk of this is even greater, of course, if you’ve gone to the appointment alone.
6. Don’t write off a good doctor because of one disappointing visit.
Let’s set the scene. You’ve seen this doctor before. The rapport was fantastic. She was a good listener and involved you in the entire process. You feel fortunate to have such an interactive relationship with your doctor. But then you have an appointment during which she rushes you and isn’t focusing on you the way she did before.
Sometimes people jump to the conclusion: “She doesn’t want me as her patient anymore; my illness is just too much of a hassle.” But remember this; life can be stressful for doctors too. This may have been the day when she was badly overbooked, or tired from lack of sleep, or worried about a family member.
It’s also possible that an unexpectedly disappointing visit was due to your doctor’s frustration about not being able to “fix” you. Doctors learn in medical school: examine, diagnose, fix. But that isn’t how it goes for people with chronic pain and illness. So, if you have a good relationship with a doctor, I suggest that you give him or her some slack and accept that on some days, a hard-to-treat patient is simply too difficult for the doctor to handle gracefully.