18 Minute Challenge
Americans get, on average, 18 minutes with their primary care doctors at each visit. Here's how to use your time to get the care you need. Doctors today are required by the government, insurance companies and professional organizations to carefully document nearly every aspect of patient care – from how they protect your privacy in the waiting room to how often and how long they wash their hands. All these extra requirements come into the medical encounter and take time. Here are the ways you can take charge at each stage of your visit:
- Before your visit get prepared. Make a list of all the reasons you want to see the doctor. Include everything from unexplained aches and pains to prescription refill requests to questions you have about something you read on the Internet.
- Build a rapport with your physician. A few moments of initial connection can set the tone for the rest of the visit.
- Prioritize the reasons for your visit. Doctors listen to a patient’s concerns for an average of just 22 seconds before interrupting. That means your doctor may only hear the first one or two reasons for your visit, creating the possibility that your most urgent or bothersome complaints will go unaddressed.
- Set an agenda. Primary care doctors are generally asked to tackle three to six patient concerns per visit, and there usually isn’t enough time to address them all. Without setting priorities, some of your most pressing needs might fall by the wayside.
- Get ready for the clinical exam. This is typically the longest time you’ll have of undivided attention. Your doctor will likely use this time to investigate your symptoms and discuss challenges that prevent you from managing your disease. What to avoid during this period is clamming up. It’s important to continue to communicate with your doctor during this diagnostic phase so he or she can make a well-informed decision about your care.
- Create a treatment plan. Studies show that when you, the patient, are involved in your treatment, you’ll be more satisfied and have a better health outcome. Your doctor will also be less likely to generate unnecessary tests and referrals. This is also the time you should ask your doctor to make a note of any problems you weren’t able to discuss.
- What to avoid: Leaving before you really understand either your doctor’s instructions or the reasoning behind his decisions. Research shows only 15 percent of patients fully understand what their doctors tell them, and that 50 percent leave their doctor’s offices uncertain of what they need to do to take care of themselves.
Taking an active role in your interactions with your doctor doesn’t just make the visit more pleasant. Studies have shown that speaking up will impact your health. Sherrie H. Kaplan, PhD, co-director of the center for health policy research at the University of California at Irvine says she believes that patient passivity, “should be treated as a risk factor for chronic disease.”