What does it take to be a good patient? If you’ve ever wondered what your doctor wants you to know, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve interviewed some health care practitioners and asked them what behaviors they like and don’t like to see from their patients. We also asked them to give us a list of the things they want you to tell them and the things they would rather not hear. Read this guide for being a good patient to get the skinny on how you can get the most out of your doctor’s appointments.
1. Be on Time
This is a recommendation that we heard repeatedly when we spoke to medical professionals. Please come to your appointments on time. In fact, it’s even more helpful when you arrive about 15 minutes early.
Medical doctor Sudarshan Shetty said, “After work, I have a family to go to. You can’t delay your appointment for your convenience and waste my time.” When a patient comes in late, it can throw off the doctor’s schedule for the entire day. If you know you will be running behind, please call the office and let them know so that they can plan for the delay and work around it.
Your doctor values the time that you spend together and wants to give you unhurried attention. However, when the day’s schedule has been shuffled and turned upside down because of late patients, your doctor is anxious and rushed. You’ll get the most out of your visit if you’re on time and ready for your appointment.
2. Don’t Be Bashful
When we spoke with Jennifer Barnes, a board-certified family nurse practitioner, she said, “It’s not helpful when people can’t or won’t talk about their bodies. Talking about it makes them embarrassed. Don’t be bashful. Don’t be embarrassed to use the right words for body parts. If I’m going to help you, you have to know that I am not going to laugh at you because you said the word ‘penis.’”
Barnes, who sees patients in Indianapolis, added, “It’s difficult when patients don’t tell you everything. You think you understand the problem. Then, you try to come up with a treatment plan, and you find out later that there’s more to the story. It changes the entire plan. Don’t leave out embarrassing details.” Barnes also said, “We’re only as good as the information we have. If you’re not telling me everything, don’t be upset when I can’t fix your problem.”
3. Tell the Doctor If You’re Using Alternative Therapies
Barnes said, “If you’re taking herbal remedies, I need to know. I’m not opposed to alternative medicine. But, I need to know what you are using because I wouldn’t want it to interact with things I may prescribe.” Then, she provided an example, “If you have been treating your depression with St. John’s wort, I don’t want to prescribe a drug like Prozac that could interact with the herbal medicine and cause more problems.”
Be sure to make your doctor aware of everything you are putting in your body and all the therapies and treatments you are using. It’ll help him or her create a better treatment plan for you.
4. Don’t Be Creepy
If you want to get the most out of your visit, don’t use your appointment time to try and get a cute intern’s phone number. Eli Grey, a hospital intern, said, “Patients who flirt with their doctors are also not good. Please don’t be creepy. Let your doctors do their jobs. They aren’t interested in you and, legally, couldn’t date you anyway.”
5. Turn Off Your Cellphone
Barnes shared a story about one of her colleagues. She said the doctor was performing a pap smear on a patient who was on her phone through the entire procedure and took a picture of him while he was doing it.
Put your phone away during your appointment. Barnes says, “Please focus on our conversation so that I can make a plan for your treatment. I won’t have my phone out because I value this meeting with you. Please don’t pay attention to your phone during our visit. When we are discussing your situation, we need to wait on the phone call or text so that I can talk with you without interruption.”
6. Google Didn’t Go to Medical School
It’s fine to search online about your symptoms, but don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Several of the practitioners we spoke with mentioned patients who have graduated with honors from the “Google College of Medicine.”
One practitioner told us about a woman who came in and said she was certain that she had a Nipah virus infection. Nipah henipavirus has only ever been reported in the areas of Malaysia, India, and Bangladesh. This patient was nowhere near any of the affected countries and had not been traveling. However, when she read about the virus online, her symptoms seemed to match.
While Google is an excellent tool, it is no replacement for medical certification. Your doctor doesn’t mind if you find helpful information online. However, understand that your doctor has likely spent more than a decade of training for his or her medical degree. Don’t use the internet to diagnose yourself.
7. You May Not Need a Prescription
Somewhere along the way, many patients started believing that they didn’t get their money’s worth if they left their doctor’s office without a prescription.
Barnes said, “Everyone wants a quick fix. If I can fix it, I will. What I do know is that writing you an antibiotic prescription when you don’t need one won’t help you. It could lead to a potential antibiotic resistance.” She added, “Many practitioners will write a prescription or perform an X-ray for a patient because it seems to make them feel better when, in fact, the patient doesn’t need the medicine or procedure at all.”
If your doctor doesn’t prescribe any medication for you, don’t push for one. When you’ve got a virus, an antibiotic will do you no good. Trust your doctor’s expertise.
8. Tell the Doctor If You Aren’t Taking Prescribed Medications
Often, patients are embarrassed to tell their doctors that they can’t afford the medication he or she has prescribed for them. They’ll either take less than the prescribed amount, to stretch out their medication, or they won’t take it at all. That’s a big problem.
Barnes said, “If I prescribe something for you, I always need to know if you can’t afford it or if it’s hard for you to get. I will prescribe the best medicine at the best value. If I don’t know that you need help getting your medicine, then I can’t prescribe something less expensive or offer you a program to help. Many of the drug companies offer assistance to help you get their medicines for less money.” Barnes added, “Some medicines are very expensive. As the prescribe, I don’t think about the price. I don’t always know what your insurance covers. You have to be honest with me.”
9. Doctors Cannot Always Call in a Prescription for You Over the Phone
Your doctor understands that you’re busy. In some situations, he or she may be able to phone in a prescription for you. However, that isn’t always an option. There are reasons why your doctor may need to see you in person to prescribe a certain medication. Trust that it isn’t a waste of your time to stop in for a formal diagnosis before you hit the pharmacy.
10. The Emergency Room Is for Emergencies
Please don’t abuse the emergency room. Physician Giliana García Acevedo said, “I’m sorry, but your six-month history of very mild, intermittent abdominal discomfort is not an emergency.”
If you can make it through the night, rest and call your doctor’s office in the morning to be seen. If you have a nasty cough or you need some blood work done, don’t go to the emergency room. Save that resource for serious emergencies. When emergency room physicians are busy with non-emergency patients, people with actual emergencies may have to wait a few minutes longer. Do your best to follow protocol and see your doctor during regular business hours for situations that don’t require immediate intervention.
11. Clean Up a Little Bit Before You Come In
It’s beneficial if you practice good hygiene before you come in to see the doctor. Barnes said, “You don’t have to do anything abnormal. Don’t scrub yourself too much or over clean anything. But, please be clean if you are coming in for an exam.”
12. Tell the Doctor What Is Bothering You
Be ready to articulate your condition. Barnes said, “I want to know what’s bothering you. You don’t necessarily need to have a statement written down. I will ask you questions, and I want you to have thought about what’s bothering you and be able to give me an answer. When you have something affecting your body, you are the best person to tell me about it.”
13. What Kind of Pain Do You Have?
It’s beneficial to your doctor if you can indicate the type of pain you are having. Barnes said, “If you can describe the quality or kind of pain you are having that will help me understand what could be causing it. An acute, stabbing, excruciating pain could be a broken bone. A dull, nagging pain could be an overuse injury or a strain.”
14. What Makes the Pain Better or Worse?
Barnes said, “The first thing I will try to do when you come in reproduces the pain. But, if you can tell me already, what makes the pain worse, I won’t have to do that to you.”
Similarly, if there’s anything that gives you comfort, make sure to tell your doctor. What kinds of things make it feel better? Barnes said, “Sometimes, a sling can give support and allow an injury to heal. If putting pressure on it relieves pain, that gives us more information on what to look for.”
15. Please Stop Smoking
Your doctor wants you to stop smoking. It’s so upsetting for a caring physician to put time and effort into helping you become healthier only to watch you continue to put dangerous and deadly poisons into your body. So, many of the practitioners we interviewed wanted you to know that if you smoke, your doctor desperately wants you to quit.
16. The Doctor Wants to See You When You’re Healthy
Barnes said, “Don’t just come to see me when you’re sick. I want to see you sometime when you’re well. If I am going to see you long-term, I would like you to come in for a regular checkup once in a while. I want baseline data on you. Then, when things are not normal, I will be able to recognize it.”
Bonus ― Be a Good Patient
Your doctor has most likely spent eight years or more training for his or her profession. Good doctors also work continuously to become better at their jobs. They have taken a great deal of time to provide quality service to their patients.
Return the favor by taking a few minutes, before your next appointment, to read through this list of tips for being a good patient. We’re certain your doctor will appreciate it. Be well.