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Tap Into the Knowledge of the Professionals in Your Doctor's Office

Posted May 11th, 2009 by Trisha Torrey

I wish I had a nickel for all the patients who complain to me about how little time their doctors spend with them, too often leaving them with unanswered questions. They feel rushed and frustrated.

Reports tell us that actual face time with your doctor may last as little as eight minutes. If you are on Medicare, you might get more like 12 to 15 minutes. When you have symptoms that scare you, or test results that need translation, then you just can’t get enough time. 

Most doctors wish they could spend far more time with you, but low insurance reimbursement schedules force them to see too many patients in a day just make enough money to keep their practice doors open. If your doctor spent extra time with all her patients, she would soon go out of business.

What many of us forget is that there are plenty of people in your doctor’s office who can help us.  The doctor is only one professional there; there are also nurses, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, schedulers, medical assistants or others who can help you with the questions that aren’t so personal. Sometimes they know answers your doctor doesn’t -- meaning, they may be even more helpful than your doctor.

Remembering this fact means we can figure out a way to maximize the few minutes we have with our doctors.  Here’s how:

Before you go in for your appointment, write down all your questions.

Divide them into two groups, putting the more personal, specific-to-your health questions in the list for your doctor.  Put the remaining questions in a list for other personnel in the office. When you get to your doctor’s office, you can ask those questions of each, allowing you to maximize your face-time with your doctor.

Here are some examples:

When it comes time to discuss treatment options, your doctor will be the best person to explain them to you. Take notes about those options during your time with your doctor. Then learn more about them either at the library or on the Internet.

Once you’ve done your homework, call your doctor’s office and ask to speak with, or make an appointment with the nurse, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant. Any of them will be a goldmine of information for you to follow up on your research. Once you’ve had those conversations, you’ll be well-prepared for another meeting with your doctor.

If your doctor recommends medical diagnostic tests, she will be able to explain why she wants you to have them and what she hopes she will, or won’t, find. Then, additional information can come from the nurses, physician’s assistants or nurse practitioners in the office. They can help you better understand the testing procedure, explain details like what you should wear or how long it will take to get results, or other aspects of the test itself that don’t need the doctor’s expertise.

Need to refill a prescription? Have questions about your bill or your insurance? Need directions to another facility? Or ready to make your next appointment? There will be a medical assistant, receptionist or clerk who can help you with those kinds of questions, too.

If you have remaining questions that can only be answered by your doctor, then make an additional appointment for another day. That way your insurance will cover the appointment and your doctor will have the additional time of a second appointment to answer your questions.

Consider all the people working at your doctor’s office as a part of a team that is there to assist you. By tapping into their individual expertise, you and your doctor will be far more satisfied with the outcomes of your time together, and you’ll feel as if you’ve gotten all your questions answered.


About the author

Trisha Torrey is Every Patient's Advocate. She is a newspaper columnist, radio talk show host, national speaker, and the guide to patient empowerment at

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