Have you ever felt like you’re just number or a timeslot on your doctor’s patient list? I know I’ve caught more than one doctor peeking at my chart just to remember my name. It’s understandable—doctors spend, on average, roughly 19 minutes with each patient, and if you’re like me you’re there only once a year (sometimes less!). So how can you still get your doctor to treat you like a VIP? You may need to show a little love yourself it turns out. Take this advice from someone who has been on both sides of the stethoscope, as a doctor and cancer patient: Wendy S. Harpham, M.D., FACP, author of Only 10 Seconds to Care shared shares five easy steps you can—and should—take to avoid getting lost in the crowd:
1. Make “you” unique.
Find a way to stand out from the parade of other patients. Share with your doctors an interesting story about your circumstances or an unforgettable detail that sets you apart. At your next visit, share a memorable picture, like the one where you’re celebrating a milestone birthday.
2. Link your health goals with your life goals.
Tell your doctors why you want and need to stay healthy. You don’t have to be aspiring for something as dramatic as becoming a Broadway star or skydiving in all 50 states. You can transform a humdrum office visit into a meaningful mission for your doctors by simply saying, “I need to stay healthy so I can work full-time” or “I have to get well to care for my children.” This allows your physicians an opportunity to offer additional—and invaluable—medical advice that is specific to helping you achieve your goals.
3. Show you care about your physicians.
I’m not suggesting that at every visit you ask about their family. Show you care by arriving on time for your appointments and by calling to reschedule if you are running late. Prepare for your visits by bringing a record of your medications and a prioritized list of your concerns. Learn about—and respect—their office procedures. And don’t hesitate to ask, “What can I do to help you care for me?”
4. Take your prescribed therapies.
If you don’t comply with your doctors’ orders—whether that’s making lifestyle changes, taking prescriptions or following other advice—you sabotage their efforts to help you (and possibly how invested they feel in your case). So if you don’t agree with their recommendations or if you develop problems along the way, let your doctors know—they want to know! Work with your doctors to find a mutually agreeable plan of action. Then do your part.
5. Express gratitude.
In any relationship, gratitude can be the glue that holds people together. Let your doctors know you appreciate their time, energy and expertise. In addition to paying your bills on time, a simple “Thanks!” can go a long way. Send a note or card, especially after they’ve helped you through a rough illness or gone out of their way to serve you.
With a few easy steps, says Dr. Harpham, you can help your physicians care for you—and care about you. So do it. You’ll be glad you did.
Wendy S. Harpham is a doctor of internal medicine and survivor of chronic cancer. Her newest book, Only 10 Seconds to Care, uses entertaining stories to provide an inside view of the world of your doctors. She also writes a popular blog, Dr. Wendy Harpham on Healthy Survivorship.
Tell me, do you think your doc knows more about you than info on your chart? Have you ever tried any of Harpham’s tips? Would you? What’s your biggest doctor gripe?