Seeing your doctor has never been a picnic (tissue-thin gown, anyone?), but these days it can feel like a hit-and-run. As doctors get busier, appointments get shorter — you're supposed to spill your family history, get a prescription refill, and have a suspicious mole inspected in less time than it takes to reload your iPod.
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And not only are docs more swamped than ever; sometimes it feels like they're speaking a different language. "Medical schools teach students how to interact with patients, but by the time doctors start practicing, their bedside manner may be a bit rusty," says Sherrie Kaplan, Ph.D., a leading researcher of doctor-patient interactions. Because a satisfied patient is more likely to be a healthy one, according to research from the University of California, Irvine, we got experts to help you beat the time crunch, leap over the communication barrier, and get the medical TLC you need.
Problem: Your doctor heads for the door when you've barely had a chance to say "Ahhh."
Solution: Bring a list of the issues you want to tackle and let the doc know at the beginning of your appointment how many items are on your list, says Larry Mauksch, M. Ed., a senior lecturer in family medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle. Don't wait until the end of the appointment to bring up the most important issues. Also worth considering: Johns Hopkins University researchers found that consultations with female physicians are, on average, two minutes longer than those with male ones.
Tip: Take care of your health even before troubles arise. Discover the secrets of the world's healthiest women.
Problem: Your doctor speaks in confusing medical jargon or glosses over details.
Solution: Seventy-eight percent of patients do not fully understand their doctor's instructions, reports a study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. "Be blunt and say 'You're using a lot of words I don't understand' or 'I'm not getting the reason behind your recommendation,'" Mauksch says. Repeat what you think you heard and ask if it's correct, then write it down. If the office uses electronic medical records, request an After Visit Summary, which includes a printout of the M.D.'s recommendations.
Tip: Be sure to come clean to your doc, especially about your health, any of your vices, or the fact that you just don't understand something — or you could end up with more than a red face.
Problem: Your doctor dismisses your concerns, but you're worried something could be wrong.
Solution: Explain why you're concerned. For example, maybe your grandmother died of a brain tumor, and you're afraid that your migraines might mean you have one, too. Expressing your fears clues your doctor in to your family history and gives her some context so she can explain why you should or shouldn't be alarmed (maybe the type of tumor Grandma had doesn't run in families). If you do that and still feel strongly that something isn't right, trust your gut and get a second opinion, Kaplan says.
Tip: Follow your gut if you don't feel right. And don't ignore these 7 warning signs.
Problem: Your doctor is impossible to reach between visits.
Solution: Next time you're face-to-face, get the 411 on how your doctor can be reached. About 39 percent of physicians communicate with patients via e-mail, so find out if yours is one of them. But if you're granted the e-mail address, keep your messages short, and don't expect a rapid response. (In other words, a case of food poisoning should land you in the ER, not in your doc's in-box.) Also ask if he or she is on Twitter. "Some physicians use Twitter as a way to clear up confusion about health topics that are on patients' minds," says Sean Khozin, M.D., an internist in New York City who frequently tweets about medical issues in the news.
Tip: Ask these three questions to evaluate your doctors' customer service. If they fall short, it's time to shop for some new ones.
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