How to talk to your doctor (so you don’t waste your time)

It’s a pretty typical scenario – you wait weeks (or longer) to see a doctor only to clam up during the appointment and walk out with more questions than answers!

It doesn’t make it easier when you’ve only got a few minutes to state your case. Many healthcare systems schedule doctors with a new patient every 15 minutes – or less. 

Unfortunately, with such busy schedules, doctors may be too quick to interrupt their patients. One study found that physicians may interrupt their patients after only 11 seconds of talking, and many didn’t give their patients a chance to explain the reason for their visit. 1 

Not only have our clients experienced this but so have we! Over the years, we’ve come up with some strategies that work to deal with this situation. To get the answers you need and avoid a wasted appointment, here is a plan you can use to prepare for your next doctor’s visit:

1. Determine your Big 3

What are your biggest concerns? Think about your expectations for the appointment and prioritize your top 3 questions by writing them down and bringing them with you. Your job is to leave the appointment with those answers written down. 

2. Refine your 30-second pitch

While you may not be pitching the next million-dollar business idea on Shark Tank, you do need to be clear and concise when you talk to a busy doctor. The key is practice. If you don’t practice what you need to say, it’s too easy to forget at the moment. Tell your story, in 30 seconds or less, and include your Big 3 questions at the end. This way, you’ll be less likely to be interrupted, and more likely to be understood.

3. Take notes

What should you write? Fill in the answers to your Big 3 questions! And just so you know, you will NOT look stupid if you take notes – your doctor may be taking notes as you talk. Jot down what steps or actions you are supposed to take after the appointment. Repeat back any information you’re not sure of so you know you’ve got it right. 

4. Ask for layman’s terms

It can be intimidating when a doctor speaks in medical terms but know that it’s usually just a simple oversight on their part. It’s easy to forget you are talking in work-speak when you aren’t around your co-workers. Just remember that your doctor doesn’t know how to do your job, and you’re not expected to know theirs. The best thing you can do is to say, “I don’t understand. Please explain a different way.”

5. Use attention questions

It’s common for a busy doctor to be juggling multiple patients and responsibilities at any given time. Their attention may be pulled away from you for many reasons, and it’s going to be your job to get the answers you need. To help re-engage with a distracted doctor, ask them open-ended questions (not yes/no). You have many options, like:

  • “How’s your day going?”
  • “How will we know if the plan is working?”
  • Or be direct and ask “Why?”

Finally, do not leave the appointment without knowing what you need to do next. Unless, of course, you want to waste your time 🙂

Here is a cheat sheet you can use to prepare for your next doctor’s appointment:

If you have any questions, reach out to us at team@alphapnr.com. We answer every question.

If you know anyone who might benefit from reading this, please share it with them. Thank you!

REFERENCES

1. Ospina NS, et al. Eliciting the patient’s agenda – secondary analysis of recorded clinical encounters. Journal of General Internal Medicine. 2019;34:36-40.