Many professionals such as accountants or attorneys bill for their services by the hour. This ultimately encourages us to be efficient and come to a meeting prepared to keep the cost down.
One profession that doesn’t work this way is the medical field. Although the meter isn’t running while you are seeing a physician, a little preparedness can still go a long way in ensuring a productive appointment.
Many physicians feel the side effects of patients coming to an appointment unprepared. But on the flip side, many patients may not realize the importance of doing so.
Jeffrey Suppinger, M.D., a family medicine physician with Williamson Medical Group in Franklin, says when a patient can’t recall details such as medications they are taking, or when their last surgery was, it can hinder his ability to treat the patient effectively.
“At the very least, patients should bring with them their medical history and medications they are taking with dosages,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many people come in with a cough, but they can’t remember when it started. Having these little details allows me to do my job better.”
He says the more organized a patient is, the better the outcome of an appointment can be.
“The issue stems from the fact that some people don’t get as much out of the interaction with their healthcare provider as they wish they would,” Suppinger said. “So, they may leave dissatisfied, feeling their expectations weren’t met. But that can be because they may not have realistic expectations and, sometimes, patients aren’t prepared.”
So we asked Dr. Suppinger to help identify the top six things that patients can do to make the most of the time with their physician. He says these things apply to any physician whether it’s a routine appointment or a specialist. Below are his recommendations.
1. Know your history. Medical and personal.
“I see a lot of different types of people, and the conversation depends on the complexity of what we are discussing,” he said. “If it’s a more complex issue then I would need to know a lot of details.”
He says it boils down to being organized.
“It can be as simple as taking birth control and remembering that it caused some side effects, but not remembering what medication it was,” he said. “It would be helpful to me to know what medication that was so I don’t prescribe it again.”
He said although we have great resources here in Middle Tennessee and vast provider options, patient information is not as easily shared from one health care system or hospital to the next. So, you might have had a surgery at one hospital, but your provider at another hospital won’t necessarily know that.
2. Come prepared, but be flexible
Suppinger says it is important for a patient to prioritize their concerns. He said when patients present multiple issues, he has to focus on what he sees as the most important of the concerns first.
“Sometimes what I may think is most important and what the patient may think is most important are completely different,” he said. “If you came to see me because you are nauseated, but we find that your blood pressure is really high, I am going to be more concerned about that than I am about the nausea.”
He says he is tasked to help keep the patient on track and set a mutual agenda from the beginning of an appointment so that both the patient and the provider can agree on the direction and be satisfied with the end result.
3. Communicate — and be direct
Suppinger said he always appreciates it when a patient says, “I have something important to ask you.”
He recommends a patient be deliberate and direct when asking questions. It helps a physician know exactly what you are hoping to talk about.
“Ask for clarification if need be and if you have a hard time remembering or if it’s something emotional, don’t be afraid to bring a family member with you,” he said. “Please clearly state what you are thinking. That helps both doctor and patient a lot. It is up to you how we spend our time together. You can help direct if we spend the majority of the visit on one topic and the minority on a second.”
4. Don’t be ashamed to Google your symptoms
Suppinger said patients tend to be nervous about bringing up what they read on the internet about their symptoms.
“Don’t be ashamed to tell your provider that you looked some things up on the internet,” he said. “Sometimes it can be very helpful and there have been times where we end up looking stuff up together and talking about what we find.”
He advises people to use caution when searching, however, as the information found online can sometimes cause undue anxiety. That is why, he says, it is a good idea to bring up what you have seen online, so your doctor can help provide context.
5. Have realistic expectations.
Suppinger said that, these days, no physician can spend an hour with every patient, so it’s important to maximize the time allotted and be realistic about what can be accomplished in a short period of time.
“All physicians want to meet a patient’s needs. That’s why we went into medicine to begin with,” he said. “But we are up against more and more issues with quality metrics. Medicare, for example is looking at more and more data to determine if we are delivering good quality care. They want to know if the patient smokes, did we tell them to quit? Is a patient’s blood pressure controlled, did we talk about getting an annual mammogram, did someone recommend a colonoscopy, were you offered a flu shot? There is more tracking of this information now and we have to collect that data and prove it to someone because it affects how we are reimbursed. So, it takes up some of our time with the patient.”
Knowing this, Suppinger recommends being an active participant in your visit by setting some reasonable expectations for the visit before you even get there.
“Unfortunately, we probably can’t handle five big problems in one visit,” he said. “So, think about what’s most important to you and write those things down. Sometimes I can consolidate a patient’s list into one topic. It also helps you not leave your appointment and realize you forgot to ask the physician something very important.”
Jeffrey Suppinger, M.D., is a board-certified family medicine physician with Williamson Medical Group in Franklin. His office can be reached by calling (615) 794-5354.Share this Article