In recent times, one of the issues most complained about by patients comes down to this: Why does my doctor zip through my office visit and fail to give me the attention I need and deserve?
To be sure, doctors these days struggle ever more with “efficiency” pushes in medicine by profit-obsessed business interests and private investors, combined with administrative demands — especially those tied to electronic health records.
These and other factors devour doctors’ frontline practice time. High-level policy makers, politicians, and regulators eventually may be forced to grapple with the rightful concern by regular folks that, as patients, they now confront the reality that a primary care doctor will spend on average 18 minutes with them in an office visit.
Primary care physicians, especially, have said that they find unsustainable the overwhelming patient loads required to satisfy corporatized ownership or even to keep small practices afloat. One study has estimated that these important practitioners would have to put in almost 27 hours in a day to meet all their demands.
Alas, patients, in their own interest, may need to become more aggressive to optimize their medical care, especially in maximizing time they have with their doctors in the office, clinic, or hospital and preventing problems that may occur, as the Washington Post reported:
“Breakdowns in doctor-patient communication are common. A 2021 survey by the AHIMA Foundation found that nearly 2 in 3 American adults are not ‘extremely confident’ they understand the health information they discuss with their physician. The [coronavirus] pandemic hasn’t helped — personal protective equipment, telehealth, and provider burnout all affect medical conversations.”
The newspaper, though, pointed to helpful online information provided by the National Institute on Aging and useful for all patients, not just older ones:
“The NIA site counters challenges [in doctor-patient relationships] with articles and printable worksheets that deal with recording family health history, choosing a new doctor, discussing life changes during a doctor’s visit, prioritizing which concerns to share and tracking medication. For providers, the site offers tips for ‘talking with your older patient’ and improving communication. The tips are worth checking out for younger people, too — especially the ones on how to get the most out of a doctor’s visit …Particularly helpful is a suggestion to record checkups (with permission from everyone involved) with a smart phone or audio recorder. The agency also encourages people to seek out other members of the health care team, including pharmacists and physician assistants, who may have more time and availability than doctors.”
The NIA site, which can be accessed by clicking here, also discusses how to deal well with telemedicine appointments, finding and choosing doctors that work for you, and vital and sensitive talks with your physician.
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also their struggles to access and afford safe, efficient, and excellent health care. This has become an ordeal due to the skyrocketing cost, complexity, and uncertainty of treatments and prescription medications, too many of which turn out to be dangerous drugs.
Let’s be clear: Patients control their own care. They have the right to decide if they will take any drug or undergo any test or procedure. They have the fundamental right to informed consent. This means they are told clearly and fully all the vital facts they need to make an intelligent decision about what treatments to have, where to get them, and from whom.
Patients should not keep seeing a doctor who is brusque, too harried, or a poor communicator.
If you do not like nor do you respect your doctors and their clinical advice, get another opinion, or get rid of them. Don’t put your doctors on a pedestal and potentially even let them cause you injury. Find new and better doctors and keep doing so until you find the right caregivers for you. Do it as part of your new year plans. Ask family, friends, work colleagues, and others whose counsel you value. Check out doctors online, examining their education, experience, and their affiliations with professional, credentialing organizations, as well as reputable hospitals in the area. By the way, don’t fall prey to some doctors’ slick advertising and do what you can to become a better consumer of health information, so you also avoid destructive, too prevalent medical disinformation.
Your health and wellness rely on a two-way street of your talking, frankly and clearly, with your medical providers. Research shows that 62% of patients with serious, chronic conditions said in a survey that they didn’t take their doctor prescribed medications because they just forgot to do so, while caregivers discovered to their distress that 28% of those studied had run out of meds and had not told their MDs they needed refills. As the American Heart Association said in a recent policy statement:
“Medications do not work in patients who do not take them. Non-adherence is one of the largest challenges faced by [medical] providers in their management of [patients’] chronic illness.”
The heart group, joined by the American Stroke Association, called on doctors and others in the health care system to determine why problems with patients occur and to resolve these, urgently. It won’t be easy. Patients, the groups noted, may get confusing, unclear, or too jargony information from doctors, leading them to wave off care they just do not understand. It could be that they cannot access or afford drugs, tests, or procedures, and doctors fail to reckon with these major issues.
This is unacceptable. In the wealthiest country in the world, health care cannot be a privilege for the wealthy few, it must be a right for all. It’s not right for the big money that patients pay that they must labor at improving their own medical care. That’s a better option than getting the short-shrift or suffering harm. We have much work to do to improve our health system, so it works better for us, not vice versa.