Getting the Most Out of Your Appointments
Depending upon which source you read, the average length of time a doctor spends with each patient ranges from 5 minutes to 23 minutes. That’s not a lot of time to discuss your health history, medications, symptoms and concerns — much less talk about complicated information or a new serious condition. So how can you get what you need — and deserve —during each doctor visit? All arrows point first to having a primary care provider (PCP) with whom you develop a trusting relationship.
Primary Care Primer
Primary care providers are your first line of defense. Their focus is on you as a whole person, that is, all aspects of your physical and emotional health. Their care is comprehensive, from the first point of contact for undiagnosed conditions and preventive screening to managing an ongoing illness and overseeing medications. S/he may refer you to a specialist if needed, but PCPs are essential for coordinating care across all healthcare services. You receive more consistent care with a PCP who gets to know your health issues and personal values over the long term.
PCPs can be internal medicine doctors, pediatricians or family care practitioners. Internists care for adults, pediatricians see children, and family care doctors work with both adults and children. PCPs often have physician assistants (PAs) and nurse practitioners (NPs) working in their practices as part of their primary care team. PAs and NPs can diagnose and treat illnesses as well as prescribe medications. Some people prefer seeing PAs or NPs because they often spend more time with patients.
If you don’t already have a PCP, now is a good time to find one. Look for someone who listens carefully to you, someone with whom you feel comfortable. After all, you will be sharing many personal details with this person. Developing a relationship with a PCP is the first step towards getting the most out of your healthcare appointments. That’s because you are seeing someone who has begun to know your whole story. You won’t have to start from square one every visit.
Questions to Ask Before Any Test, Treatment or Procedure
- How will this test or procedure help? What are the potential results and how will they affect the next steps?
- What are the risks and side effects?
- Are there simpler, safer options?
- What if I choose to wait or choose not to have the test?
- How much does it cost, and does insurance usually cover it?
There are many reasons why appointments with providers can be short and feel rushed. According to a report from the Medical Group Managements Association, PCPs care for an average of 2,184 patients. Some experts say having 1,800 patients would allow providers more time with each patient. With economic pressures from insurance companies to provide less costly care coupled with heavy clerical requirements to document the care they provide, many providers feel pressure to spend less time with patients.
Given that your provider may be running late from previous patients, has many more patients to see, and will likely spend many hours, after hours, on documentation, going to appointments prepared will help you get the most out of them.
HINT: When scheduling appointments, ask for the first morning slot or the first one after lunch. While not guaranteed, wait time is usually the shortest at these times, and your provider may be less rushed too.
If you are seeing your provider for a routine, preventive check-up or for managing stable, long-term conditions, here are ways to prepare:
- Complete any required forms, especially your health history which may take some time. Offices often have online access to forms that can be printed or will mail you hard copies.
- Have a complete list of all your medications, vitamins and nutritional supplements. Include dosages and the schedule for when you take them. As a KnovaSolutions member, you can use the member portal to update and print your medication/supplement list.
- Keep a notebook to track your medical history. Record appointment dates and notes about each visit, medications and dates/reasons for changes, surgeries, and other important medical events. This provides a handy resource for completing health history forms and discussion during visits. It’s never too late to start a notebook!
- In your medical notebook, make a list of questions you want to ask your provider. If you’ve done a medication review with a KnovaSolutions pharmacist, include any questions about medications. Write your provider’s answers in the notebook. Ask him/her to spell, or write for you, any terms you don’t know.
- Plan to honestly discuss your health. This is not the time to hide embarrassing details about your health history or personal lifestyle. Your provider needs full information to best take care of you. Remember, providers take patient confidentiality seriously.
If you are seeing your provider for an urgent heath situation, it is helpful to take these additional steps:
- Keep a list of symptoms you have, when they started, what actions/situations cause them to worsen or improve, how they’ve changed. These details can help your provider with diagnoses and treatment.
- Ask someone to go with you as your second pair of ears. Going to the doctor can give people the “white coat jitters.” Plus, it can be difficult to take in complex medical information, especially if you are not feeling well or are hearing difficult news. A friend or relative can listen and take notes for you so you have something to refer to later.
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Another way to prepare for visits is to discuss your concerns with your KnovaSolutions nurse who can help you with medical terminology and identify questions. Call us at 800/355-0885, M-F, 8 am-5 pm.
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We encourage you to leave a comment or question below and a KnovaSolutions nurse or pharmacist will reply.
The information contained in this newsletter is for general, educational purposes. It should not be considered a replacement for consultation with your healthcare provider. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.