When you visit a doctor in a clinic or in the hospital, it's not a social call.
It's not unlike a meeting with each party bringing an agenda of items to discuss as well as individual expectations. The problems begin when the agendas don't match; the doctor and the patient have different priorities and different expectations for the visit.
Now you'd think that your reason for seeing the doctor should be obvious and straightforward. When you bring a single simple problem-a sore throat, fresh laceration or sports injury-it's easier for both you and the doctor to stay on the same page.
But your life and your health are more complicated than that; most patients bring in two or more medical concerns. Some may bring a list of six or more, and to make the visit even more unwieldy keep that list in their heads, bringing out one problem after another rather than sharing the entire list up front. It's like getting into the express line at the grocery checkout then- like a magician-pulling out another dozen items from your pockets and sleeves.
Your doctor may also have an agenda that differs from yours. If you have a chronic condition such as diabetes, a conscientious doctor will want to review your most recent lab results, explain their significance and talk about how you can improve your health.
From the doctor's point of view, all of this is in your best interests, but if the doctor fails to engage you in the discussion and you aren't motivated to address these concerns, you won't be sharing the doctor's agenda.
Recognizing this, what can we do as patients and doctors to come to a common understanding and have our needs and expectations met at each visit?
The worst meetings at work are those where the attendees do not share a common purpose or understanding and when they do not begin with a shared agenda. If we take a few moments even before the meeting starts to plan that agenda, we will make the most respectful use of everyone's time.
What can you do as a patient?
When you book your appointment, tell the office staff everything on your list. Medical office assistants (MOAs) are part of your health care team and they respect your confidentiality. By informing them of all your concerns, they can book an appropriate appointment time for you and ensure that the doctor has everything that is needed to look after each of them. For example, if you are seeing the doctor for a work-related injury, you may need to provide additional work details or complete some forms before the visit. If you are coming for test results, the MOA will ensure that the reports are in your chart before the doctor meets you. If you need immunizations, the vaccines and any other necessary medical supplies will be in the room when the doctor sees you. This will help your visit run more smoothly with your doctor less distracted by interruptions.
For the same reason, if you have any addition to your list on the day of your visit, let the staff know as soon as possible.
Coming up: How doctors and patients can agree on the agenda.
Do you have some suggestions for how patients and doctors relate? Send your comments and suggestions to me at facebook. com/davidicus.wong or leave a comment on davidicuswong.wordpress.com.
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician. You can find his Positive Potential Medicine podcasts at wgrnradio.com.