..Dr. Margaret Lewin..

Paging Dr. "Aloof"
How To Get More Quality Time With Your Doc

We've all had the frustration of walking out of our doctor's office and realizing that we haven't addressed all the problems that led to the doctor visit – or haven't had all our questions answered - sometimes because we weren't organized enough, sometimes because we simply didn't have enough time with the doctor.

Financially, we'd like to get all our healthcare "in-network" - with doctors who participate with our health plan, so that we need part with only a relatively small co-pay for the visit. It's important to realize, however, that the participating doctor has discounted his fees in order to participate and has had to add staff and equipment in order to handle the paperwork and phone calls generated by the insurance companies. When you consider the increasing cycle of skyrocketing costs and decreasing reimbursements, you can see that participating doctors must see more and more patients daily - spending less and less time with each.

If you're lucky enough to have a policy which covers out of network healthcare, and you want more time with the doctor, then choose a physician who does not accept insurance. Do check to see how long the doctor spends for a complete exam and for a short office visit, to see if that scheduling better suits your needs than an in-network doctor. You'll probably have to pay up-front, submitting the claims to your insurance company and waiting to be reimbursed.

Whichever system you choose, make sure to maximize your time with your doctor:

  • On your first visit, give the doctor a detailed medical history - preferably typed, and including your allergies, past surgeries and serious illnesses, family medical history and a list of all your medications, including dietary supplements and other over-the-counter products - even if you don't use them regularly (in fact, you should always carry that list of medications in your wallet, along with your doctor's business card, in case of emergency); on subsequent visits, always give the doctor an updated list of those medications
  • Take with you a careful list of all your issues, placing first the most important ones - try not to get distracted from that list. It can be helpful if you give the doctor a copy of that list at the beginning of the visit. If you need prescription refills, be sure to give the doctor a list of those needs at the beginning of the visit.
  • Make sure prevention is on your list.
  • Whatever the assistant says when putting you in the exam room, be sure to undress sufficiently to make it easy for the doctor to examine the area(s)of concern.
  • When the doctor explains the diagnosis and recommendations, make sure you understand by repeating back in your own words.
  • When given prescriptions, check that the new medications don't interact unfavorably with your usual regimen, ask for expected side effects and what to do should they occur.

Before leaving the office, check with the staff to find out to handle problems that come up between visits:

  • What to do in an emergency, including finding out which hospital emergency department to go to if necessary.
  • Is the doctor available for emergencies outside of regular office hours - and if not, what arrangements have been set up?
  • What to do with easier but important problems:
  • Is there a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant to call?
  • Does the doctor have regular times set aside for telephone calls?
  • Can you email in your questions - and if so, what's the expected turn-around time?
  • What's the procedure for getting prescription refills?

Being super-organized will help you get the most out of your doctor visits. If, however, you find that even this doesn't give you the time you need to fulfill your medical needs, it's time to consider changing doctors!

Dr. Margaret Lewin is the Medical Director of Cinergy Health.