Make the Most of the 15 Minute Office Visit with Your Doctor

Part 1

By Barbara Ficarra, RN, BSN, MPA

Before the 15 minute doctor visit is up...what you can do

Kevin Pho, MD, primary care physician in Nashua, N.H., blogs at, member of USA TODAY’S board of contributors and a guest to the Health in 30® Radio Show, writes about the importance of doctors engaging in social media to communicate with patients.

He writes in an op-ed in USA TODAY “Doctors ignore Internet at their own peril” on January 27, 2010:

“Raise your hand if you’ve ever left a physician’s office without fully understanding what the doctor just told you. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, half of patients admit to not understanding what their doctor told them during an office visit.

As a primary care physician, being unable to clearly communicate with patients is frustrating. The typical, 15-minute office visit often is not sufficient for a thorough discussion. A better way to connect with patients is needed.”

Patients value face-to-face connection with their doctor (and other health care professionals) and the amount of time with your doctor will vary depending on your reason for the visit.

Yes, it’s frustrating when time is limited. Since time is limited, too many of us have left an appointment only to remember a question we planned to ask.

Unless your doctor is engaging in social media to communicate with you online, it’s important that you’re prepared for your face-to-face office visit.  Bring a notebook with your questions.

Make sure you write your questions down before your visit

By writing down your questions in advance you won’t leave without the answers you need necessitating a follow-up visit or a string of phone-tag calls with your doctor.

Here is a list of questions that may help you get the conversation started:

  • What are the causes of my symptoms?
  • Will the symptoms go away?
  • How long will they last?
  • What tests are needed to determine the cause of this condition?
  • How is this condition diagnosed?
  • What are the criteria for diagnosis?
  • What is the treatment?
  • Are there alternative therapies?
  • What over-the-counter medications would be helpful?
  • What prescription medications would be helpful?
  • What are the side effects?
  • Will my present medications interfere with any of these new medications?
  • Should my diet change?
  • Are there certain foods that I should be eating?
  • What lifestyle changes should be made?

Don’t forget to ask for a copy of your test results.

We’d love to hear from you

Have you ever left an office visit and forgot to ask important questions? Do you write your questions down in advance? How do you make the most of your visit with your doctor or other health care professional?

[Part II will focus on participatory medicine, patients partnering with their doctor].

I’d like to thank our sponsor, Scrubsgallery for their continued support.

Scrubsgallery offers a special 15% discount for Elastic Scrub Pants, please use code “healthelastic”.

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