Saturday, April 01, 2006

Making the Most of a Brief Office Visit

Your doctor seems rude or arrogant, rushed or inattentive. But the doctor is supposed to be the best in the field, and you need a technician, not a counselor, right?
Not necessarily, say doctors who are teaching other doctors how to be compassionate and attentive.
"It's a fallacy that you have to choose between a nice doctor and a smart doctor," says Dr. Rita Charon, a professor of clinical medicine at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
But what if you are stuck with a difficult doctor?
Prepare before going in for a visit, says Dr. Richard Frankel, a professor of medicine and geriatrics at Indiana University. Dr. Frankel has found that patients, on average, have 18 seconds to talk to a doctor before they are interrupted and that women doctors interrupt at the same rate as men. The trick for patients is to decide ahead of time what they want to convey and to deflect interruptions to say it.
Patients should also take a list of their complaints and ask the doctor to staple it to their chart. That way, Dr. Frankel says, the doctor almost always addresses them.
After you leave the office, tell the difficult doctor about your experience, as soon as possible and in as neutral a way as possible, writing a letter or sending an e-mail message. You may also want to send a copy to the medical director of the doctor's practice, which increases the chances that your complaint will bring results.
The message to convey, Dr. Frankel says, is, "I had a bad experience today, and I'd like to tell you why." Most doctors have no idea they are difficult, he says, and "if you don't give feedback - this is unacceptable, this is inappropriate, this hurts my feelings - you reinforce the behavior."

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