How can you get the best out of your doctor in eight minutes?
Ready! Steady! Go! You’re on Countdown! The clock’s ticking and you’ve got just eight minutes to explain your life with IBS and get the help that you need.
It may seem impossible, ridiculous even, but that is all the time you will be allocated in most GP’s surgeries in the UK. So make it count. Eight minutes can be quite long enough if you are focused, concise and decide what you need from the appointment.
Here are a few tips on how you can get the best out of your doctor
- Your relationship with your doctor is a professional relationship. They may be polite and courteous, but they are not your friend. So don’t waste time on small talk, be pleasant but ‘cut to the chase’, present your problem briefly, keep to the point and be sure to get the answers you need.
- You are in charge of your condition. You are going to your doctor for their advice and opinion and because they are the gatekeeper to further investigation and treatment. They are there to help you make the decision, not to make it for you.
- Decide what it is you need. Be specific and pro-active. If you have a symptom, you are worried about, don’t ‘beat about the bush’, tell it straight. Also say what worries you. If you are frightened you may have cancer, say it. Red flag symptoms, like bleeding from the rectum or ongoing weight loss will ring alarm bells in your doctor’s mind. They have to sit up and take notice.
- Do your research beforehand. Doctors will engage more effectively with a patient who is informed. So look it up on The IBS Network’s IBS Self Care Programme or another reliable website. Formulate questions that most accurately address your symptoms and your worries.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for the investigations and treatments that you want. Gone are the days when your doctor was a figure of authority who could not be questioned. Your doctor is a service provider and you are the informed customer. Ask for what you need and then negotiate. If your symptoms have changed, you have looked it up, talked to your family or friends and feel that a colonoscopy is indicated, ask for it. If you need help with your diet, ask for a referral to a dietitian. If you are desperate and want to talk to somebody, ask to be referred to a counselor.
- Be prepared to negotiate. Your doctor may have perfectly valid reasons why they feel that further investigations won’t help you or why certain treatments would be ill-advised. Listen carefully, discuss, be prepared to consider alternative solutions. Your relationship with your doctor is a meeting of experts. Remember you are the expert on you.
- You may have so many different symptoms, that you are desperate for help. But your doctor is not going to be able to sort out your life for you in eight minutes. So get some help from friends and family to think it through before you see your doctor. Decide on the best solution. If it all centres around one alarming symptom, then ask for the appropriate investigation or treatment. If all your troubles were triggered by some traumatic event or upsetting situation in the family, ask to be referred to a counselor, who will have time to listen and help you.
- Try to calm your desperation before you see your doctor. Keep your mind engaged. Most doctors do not react well to desperation. It challenges them and makes them feel powerless and defensive and it uses up too much time. If you feel overwhelmed and completely powerless to do anything, you will convey that to your doctor and they will feel the same way too. Then they become ‘part of the wreckage’ and cannot help.
- Understand where your doctor is coming from. Help them engage their mind on creative and effective solutions by keeping to a professional agenda they can help with.
- Have realistic expectations. Your doctor cannot sort out your life, but they can point you in the directions that may help.
- Be subtle. Appeal to your doctor’s expertise. They like that! Ask for their advice. Always say what you think, but ask for their opinion; then discuss. That way you can have a more productive and satisfying appointment.
- Be explicit and courteous, but do not put your doctor on a pedestal. ‘At last I have got to see you, I know you are the one who will make me better’. They will sense the manipulation and feel under pressure, which will just irritate them.
- Remember your doctor is a person too. They have their own vulnerability, though some may defend their own feelings of inadequacy behind the metaphorical white coat of authority. They may be very sensitive to any criticism that makes them feel they or the medical services are failing in some way – even though that may be true. So try not to get angry. Don’t complain about how long you have been kept waiting, the non productive tests or the treatments that didn’t work. ‘You know them pills you gave me last time. They were rubbish!’ Focus on making this appointment positive and productive.