talking to doctor

Ever go to the doctor and feel tongue-tied and unsure of what to say? We asked David Hutzel, MD, internal medicine physician, UPMC Hamot Physicians Network, for advice on making your office visits worthwhile. Follow his tips to make sure all of your problems and concerns get addressed before you head home.

“If you have made a doctor’s appointment, it’s very likely that you are concerned about your health and you are looking for answers,” says Dr. Hutzel, “However, you may feel overwhelmed about getting your message across in a short window of time. Below are a few tips that I have found to be helpful for myself and my patients to help our visits go as smoothly as possible.”

Be Brief but Descriptive

If I walk into the exam room and I hear “Everything is wrong…my body is falling apart,” that office visit usually does not go well. Try to be succinct with your health concerns and focus on one to two problems rather than trying to fix everything. Make a list and include:

  • The nature of your symptoms
  • How long you have had them
  • How severe they are
  • Anything that makes you feel better or worse.

If your symptoms are very general, such as fatigue or malaise, try to be as descriptive as possible.

Prioritize Your Concerns

Having the “I-am-at-the-buffet-and-I-need-to-get-my-money’s-worth” mentality does not work well with a standard 15-minute office visit. Patients often show up with a list of up to 10 items they want to discuss in detail during the office visit. When that happens, both the doctor and the patient may end up dissatisfied. With that many issues, nothing is really covered in detail because we are just skimming the surface of your problems.

If you need more time, consider making a weekly or monthly appointment and plan to cover just one or two items in detail during each appointment. All of your health concerns warrant time and attention. Therefore, take the time to cover them, but understand it may take several office visits.

Bring a Friend (But Only One)

Four ears can be better than two. Bring your spouse, a family member, or a trusted friend to help ask questions, foster conversation, and to listen to what is being said. However, six to eight ears are too many; bringing in “the herd” does not work well and causes confusion and poor communication.

Beware of the Internet

If you frequently look up your symptoms online, I have one warning: Knowledge does not equate to wisdom and experience. I do encourage patients to become educated about their disease, and I find it helpful when I ask patients what they are concerned about and what they have read about their conditions. Often I have found patients to be very insightful, and we are able to zero in on a specific disorder quickly.

However, coming to a doctor’s office is not like going to the store and picking out what you want. The most common disorders that I see patients erroneously diagnose themselves with are Lyme disease, hypothyroidism, brain tumors, herniated discs in the spine, vitamin deficiencies, ovarian cancer, and melanoma. While all of these disorders do occur at varying frequencies, I often have to battle against stacks of printed articles from various websites that have patients convinced they have a certain disease.

Politeness Goes a Long Way

My last piece of advice is pretty simple: Be nice.

The words “please” and “thank you” are greatly appreciated. The physicians and office staff of the UPMC Hamot Physicians Network are proud of the work we do every day, and we try to do our best every day, with every patient. However, we are human. Sometimes we fall short of patient expectations, so I can understand patients becoming frustrated. However, while we all do our best to remain polite and professional at all times, we also hope that our patients can do the same. A doctor-patient relationship based on mutual respect and courtesy usually produces the best results.

To find a UPMC primary care physician near you, call 1-800-533-UPMC, or request an appointment online.