I am quite grateful for my health and, outside of my annual check ups, it is not all that common for me to make a trip to the doctor’s office. When I do, you know that I am not feeling well or there is a matter that feels of utmost importance. I’ll call the office, make my appointment, but without a doubt, I always feel like I’m forgetting something — and truthfully, I often do.
We all know that doctors’ offices are busy places and with so many patients coming through those doors every single day, doctors and their staff are sure to see many issues and interesting situations happen over and over again. While we may think we’re getting it right, doctors and their teams are weighing in and sharing the mistakes we never realized we were making on our trips to the office. How many are you guilty of making?
You forget necessary paperwork
From time to time, we may find ourselves in urgent care or the emergency room if something came up outside of our doctor’s regular office hours. When released from these places, you’re always given discharge papers and told to follow up with your doctor, but when you end up back in your doctor’s office for a check up after that visit, how often do you actually remember that paperwork? I can’t say I ever gave it a thought.
“After being hospitalized, many patients do not come to the doctor’s office with the paperwork that they received when they were discharged,” said Dr. Olatokunbo Famakinwa, a double-board certified internal medicine physician and pediatricia. She went on to explain that while your primary care doctor will receive this information from the hospital directly, there can often be delays or errors in getting this important information.
“It is much easier if patients bring these papers with them to the follow-up appointment so that the primary care doctor can review what happened to the patient while hospitalized, and check for medication changes,” she added.
You complain of too many issues at once
Since I’m a pretty healthy adult, I don’t have too many trips to the doctor’s office, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t little things here or there that I make note to bring up at my next physical or yearly exam. While part of this problem is that I may forget some questions I wanted to ask if I didn’t write them down, doctors are busy and it’s likely the doctor doesn’t have nearly enough time to dive into my laundry list of questions as may be necessary for thorough understanding.
“Usually patients should limit themselves to two (maybe three) problems at the most,” said Dr. Lisa Doggett, a board-certified family physician. “It is reasonable to mention symptoms that may be related to the main issue, but patients should make a separate appointment for unrelated, significant problems.
If you have a few chronic illnesses that need to be managed at each appointment and often find yourself feeling rushed to cover all of your questions and concerns, Ruth Linden, founder and president of Tree of Life Health Advocates, suggests asking your doctor if a double appointment would be appropriate or if you should schedule more frequent appointments.
You’re lying to the doctor
Even though we know our doctors deal with sensitive topics on a daily basis, it’s totally normal to feel a bit embarrassed when we’re talking about various aspects of our health and bodily functions. Despite the nerves or shy feelings, it’s important to ensure you’re being completely honest with your doctor.
“A doctor can’t give good advice if she can’t trust the information provided by the patient,” said Doggett. “To get the best care, the patient needs to be prepared to always tell the truth, even if it is embarrassing or may disappoint the doctor.” She made sure to point out this includes admitting to the doctor you didn’t follow their advice.
You bring a young child to an inappropriate appointment
I understand that finding childcare can be difficult, especially if it’s in the middle of the day so you can attend a doctor’s appointment, but Doggett points out that there are some appointments that are not appropriate for a child to be present, such as a gynecologic exam or a sensitive subject. “These situations present challenges for the staff and the physician. Staff are not there to babysit and have a lot of other responsibilities,” she said.
Doggett went on to share an experience where a 3-year-old child was present during a pelvic exam and kept trying to see what the doctor was doing. Talk about an awkward and inappropriate scenario. If you’re unable to find proper childcare arrangements, she suggests rescheduling the appointment.
You give the doctor an inappropriate gift
I can’t say I have ever thought about bringing a gift to the doctor or their staff, but if you’re in the office on a fairly regular basis and get to know the staff I’m sure they appreciate the thought, especially during the holiday season. While it may seem obvious, it’s worth pointing out that these gifts should be something appropriate, like a fruit plate or box of homemade cookies that the staff can enjoy.
With that said, Doggett explained that she has received quite inappropriate gifts in the past, “such as sexy underwear in a heart-shaped box.” She went on to say that while she knew it was meant to be a joke, it made her very uncomfortable and was not something that should have been gifted.
You wait until the end of the appointment to bring up a major concern
If you’re like me and you don’t visit the doctor’s office very often, it can take a little time to warm up to them and feel comfortable explaining your current concern or symptoms, but it’s important not to push those major concerns until the end of your visit.
“Waiting until the end is a big mistake because it often catches the doctor off-guard, forcing him or her to refocus,” said Doggett. “The discussion may then be rushed or cut short.” She went on to say that patients should always raise the most important concern at the very beginning of their appointments as this will ensure we get our questions answered and are best using the time with the doctor.
You arrive late or completely miss your appointment
We have all had those appointments where you spend a good chunk of time in the waiting room only to finally be brought back to the exam room where you end up waiting even longer while sitting in a cold, open paper gown. We all know doctors’ schedules are tight and a late patient can easily throw off the whole day.
“Patients need to be respectful of the doctor’s time,” said Doggett. “They should call if they are running late, and try to cancel visits that will be missed well in advance.” Personally, I like to abide by the wisdom of my middle school vice principal who said “If you’re early, you’re on time; if you’re on time, you’re late; if you’re late, you’re toast.”
You’re on your phone during your appointment
We are all connected to our phones 24/7 but when you’re in the doctor’s office, it’s time to put it away. It’s one thing to scroll through your social media feed while stuck in the waiting room or while waiting for the doctor to come into the exam room, or if you wrote a list of questions and topics you wanted to bring up with the doctor as a way to ensure you don’t forget, but this isn’t the time to have a full phone or text conversation. The phone should be put down and away when the doctor walks in.
“If a patient is on the phone when the doctor enters,” said Doggett, “she should quickly end the call and apologize to the doctor.” Taking a call while the doctor is present is not only disrespectful but it’s also disruptive to the appointment and takes precious time away where you could be asking important questions about your health.
You don’t know your medications and supplements
If you’ve ever found yourself in an appointment where the nurse or doctor asks you about your current medications or supplements only to be at a complete loss of how to answer, then you likely know the importance of this point.
“Your physician doesn’t want to police the medications you take — prescribed by her or another provider, over the counter, or recreational,” said Linden. “Rather, she or he wants to prevent an adverse drug reaction, an adverse interaction between two or more substances, or duplication of two or more substances.”
In order to stay on top of this, Linden went on to suggest keeping a running list at home that you update regularly and bring it with to your appointment every time you know the list has changed.
You don’t bring someone with you for support
If you are visiting a specialist, especially if you’re anticipating a complicated conversation or discussion of a difficult illness, Linden suggests bringing a friend, family member, or additional support to this visit.
“It’s difficult to correctly remember the information given to you by your physician and the questions that may arise during your visit,” she said. “Particularly in high-stress situations, having a second pair of eyes and ears can make the world of difference for an anxious patent.”
Knowing how hard it can be to remember all of the details and information the doctor gave can be difficult for any appointment, so not only will you have that support system with you, you can also have them take notes and run through a debrief after the appointment.