Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Bill likes the physician who has been treating his chronic condition for the last couple of years, Dr. Gray. He feels he is knowledgeable and competent, and has helped him to reduce his symptoms and have a higher quality of life. Bill doesn’t anticipate parting ways with his doctor anytime soon.
However, Bill has noticed over the past year or so that his doctor seems to have less and less time to speak with him during his appointments, and appears to be more and more rushed. Here’s what happened during his last appointment:
Bill was waiting for Dr. Gray in an examining room. Suddenly, Dr. Gray burst through the door. While in the past he might have shaken Bill’s hand and asked him how he was doing, and maybe shared a laugh, he got right down to business.
Dr. Gray asked Bill if he has taken his medications on a regular basis. He asked if he was following his self-care regimen. He briefly examined him. Then he said, “Okay, see you in two months” and left the room. Bill had written down a couple of questions on a sheet of paper to ask him, but had been so surprised by his doctor’s rushed attitude that he had forgotten to even take the paper out of his pocket. Then it was too late.
Bill felt frustrated that evening when he thought about the appointment. It seemed to him that Dr. Gray had been disrespectful of his needs as a patient, and could even have overlooked something he needed to be paying attention to. And didn’t he want to know if Bill had any questions? Apparently not.
Accommodating your doctor's schedule and getting what you need
Have you ever felt rushed by your doctor? Here’s what you can do:
Consider your doctor’s perspective. It’s not easy being a physician in this managed-care world. Doctors are expected to see a lot of patients every day, with a very limited time for each one. Quite honestly, it’s the only way they can make enough money to keep their doors open. So time efficiency is necessary. Patients don’t like it and neither do doctors.
But at the same time, you have needs too. Starting with being heard and having your questions answered. That’s your right as a patient.
Speak up. As the saying goes, if you see something, say something. You don’t have to do this in an angry or accusatory way. Instead, say something like, “Whoa, looks like you’re in a rush today. Is everything okay?” This will signal to the doctor that he or she does not appear to be focused on you as the patient. Keep in mind that your doctor may or may not respond, but at least you put it out there.
Bring a list of questions. Prioritize, keep it brief, maybe limit it to three, unless you have several pressing issues. It might help to have it in front of you when the doctor enters the room, so that you don’t forget you brought it. And so the doctor clearly sees your list as well.
Make it clear that you need more time with your doctor. You can do this in a friendly way. “I know you’re in a hurry today. But I have a couple of questions I need to get answered while I have your attention.” And then ask your first question.
Be firm if needed. Speak in a more direct manner. “I have to have questions answered while I’m here. I know you’re busy but I really need you to give me a couple more minutes.” Your doctor may be receptive and take time to have a conversation with you, even if brief. He or she may appear annoyed, but at least be willing to give you some answers. But your doctor might also give you inadequate answers while rushing for the door. If so, you may need to be a little firmer, and repeat your question.
You and your doctor. Sure, your doctor is busy. But you’re the patient. Find the middle road between accommodating your doctor’s time limitations and getting your needs met. After all is said and done, you’re both there to take good care of your health, right?
Add a comment to tell us about your problems with a rushed doctor, or to praise a physician who always gives you enough time and attention.