Your doctor is too busy for much chit-chat these days. A decade ago, patients spent an average 19 minutes with their physician during a typical appointment, according to a 2005 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine. Now, that amount of face time is more likely cut in half.
"It's probably going to get down to more like eight or nine or 10 minutes with a provider," said Jeff Lehrich, CEO of Palmetto Primary Care Physicians, in an interview with The Post and Courier last year. But there are ways to make the most of an appointment, even if it seems like doctors have less time to listen.
A few South Carolina health care experts offered the following tips on becoming an empowered patient:
1. Know your medical history. Write it down on a piece of paper or keep a copy of it handy on your smartphone so that you can quickly reference details to discuss during your appointment. Even better, make an extra copy for your doctor to keep on file.
2. Keep copies of relevant medical records such as recent lab tests and X-rays. This will help avoid duplication and unnecessary expense.
3. Avoid random Internet searches about your health issues. Websites maintained by universities, hospitals and health care centers are better sources for patient information than blogs or testimonials posted online, which can be misleading.
4. Come prepared with questions or concerns. Write down a list of things you want to talk to your doctor about before the appointment, then reference that list in the exam room to make sure you don't forget anything important.
5. Speak up. If you are confused by the medical jargon your doctors use, ask them to explain what they mean more simply. If you don't understand your treatment plan, repeat it back for clarification or get someone in the office to write out the instructions.
6. Be realistic about how much time you need with your doctor. If you have a long list of complaints, ask the receptionist to schedule a longer appointment.
7. Take charge of your own health care. Doctors can only do so much. It's important that you follow through with screenings, check-ups and a health plan. Make sure to fill the prescriptions that your provider writes you and take those drugs according to the instructions provided by the pharmacy. Carefully track any symptoms you may be experiencing if you start taking new medicine.
8. Avoid "doctor shopping." While it can be smart to seek a second or third medical opinion, don't skip from doctor to doctor simply to get the answer you're looking for.
9. Access your medical records online. Most local hospitals and some physician practices allow patients to create free online accounts to read their own records, manage appointments and request prescription refills. Paper or electronic copies of your medical record are also available from doctors and hospitals, often for a fee.
10. If your doctor offers a diagnosis, ask three critical questions. What else could it be? What happens if I do nothing? If tests are required, how will the results change my treatment?
Sources: Dr. Kimberly Davis, Medical University of South Carolina Epic Ambulatory Physician Lead; Helen Haskell, founder of Mothers Against Medical Error; Dr. Donna Johnson, MUSC OB-GYN Department chair; Dr. Mark Lyles, MUSC chief strategic officer; and Dr. Preston Wendell, Summerville Medical Center emergency physician director
Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.