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Doctors, by the numbers

Scott Scanlon

Refresh Editor

Dr. Michael D. Merrill, a primary care doctor in Batavia, explains a doctor visit this way:

“Every 15 minutes, you have an hour of work to do. So it ends up being like working in fast food. And yet it has to be done for the public good, and it’s still a good job, as far as jobs go, so I’m not complaining – I’m just explaining. You have to see a certain number of patients in a day just to keep the practice open. But at the same time every patient who walks in my office could benefit from at least an hour of my time.”

“A good doctor-patient relationship is essential to achieving the best possible care, but the reality is, most doctors have less and less time to spend with each patient. So it’s important for patients to take some responsibility for that relationship, too,” says Dr. Paul Griner, an internist, professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and author of “The Power of Patient Stories: Learning Moments in Medicine.”

More than 80 percent of doctors said patient relationships were the “most satisfying” part of their job, according to a survey of more than 13,000 doctors last year by the Physicians Foundation that Griner referred to in a recent news release. Those doctors also said they were spending an average of almost one-quarter of their workday on paperwork not directly tied to patient care.

Griner and Merrill provided several suggestions about how patients can compensate for the time squeeze:

1. Be early or on time: About 15 percent of patients are late, which can add to the squeeze, Griner says.

2. Have a list of medications: Or better yet, Merrill told Refresh, “My preference is to have patients bring in all their pill bottles, inhalers and insulin to every visit so that I can know what they are taking exactly. A list is OK as long as it is updated, but even intelligent and motivated people don’t update the list enough.”

3. Come prepared with information and questions: “Prepare your thoughts ahead of time so that you can be as precise and accurate as possible,” Griner says. “What are the symptoms? When did they begin? What were you doing at the time? How are the symptoms affected by activity or rest? What makes them worse? Have you been able to do anything to relieve the symptoms? How have they affected your daily activities?”

“Don’t surprise the doc with ‘doorknob complaints’ as the doc is leaving the room,” adds Merrill. “Don’t drop something on them like, ‘I have chest pain.’ ”

4. Focus on the questions the doctor is asking you: “As obvious as it might be, it’s worth repeating that the doctor is not asking you questions to be social; questions are the best way of figuring out what’s wrong with you,” Merrill says. “There may be 50 questions the doc needs answered. Please don’t tell a long story after each question.”

5. Bring copies of test or procedure records: “Primary care is a partnership. If you keep track of what preventive tests you have had and need, that helps,” Merrill says.

6. Be prepared to give and get as much information as possible: “Let your doctor know when you are using any complementary or alternative medicine,” Griner says, and “bring a spouse or other relative with you when the problem is complicated. Two pairs of ears are better than one for remembering what the doctor said.”

“Ask your doctor how you can help make the visit more productive,” advises Merrill.