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Positively Beautiful: Want to be a doctor’s ‘dream patient?’

Dr. Susan Mathison

Every year, The Physicians Foundation collects data from thousands of people to identify the needs of patients, as well as the physicians who serve them.

Last year, the survey revealed that:

  • 84 percent of physicians feel that the medical profession is in decline.
  • 60 percent say they would retire if they had the means to do so.
  • 50 percent would not recommend medicine as a career. 

Other surveys suggest that up to 90 percent no longer recommend a life in medicine.

As a physician, I find these statistics depressing. At the same time, I understand why some physicians feel the way they do.

TV shows like Scrubs, Grey’s Anatomy and Private Practice make it seem like practicing medicine is a nonstop, sexy, exhilarating adventure filled always grateful patients, miraculous 11th-hour recoveries, and of course, romantic interludes in the supply closet.

In reality, being a physician is a very different story with a lot less romance and a lot more insurance forms. Every year, it’s more of an alphabet soup of complexity: ACA, HIPAA, CMS.

As a patient, it’s not your “responsibility” to make your physician feel better. More physicians need to “be the change they wish to see in the world.”

That being said, you can make a difference. If you want to help your physician smile and feel good about her (or his) career and maybe even empower them to be part of the change, there are some very simple things that you can do.

After all, when your doctor is happy, the benefits flow right back to you.

Here’s my take on how to become every doctor’s “dream patient.”

1. Say “thank you.”

That physician who just walked into your examination room? She might be saddled with a quarter-million dollars in student loan debt. She might have said “no” to a date last night because she needed to complete a stack of paperwork. She may have postponed having a child in order to focus on setting up her medical practice, and now it’s too late.

You never know what kinds of sacrifices your physician had to make in order to be here for you.

Expressing your appreciation doesn’t take much time or effort. Just say, “thank you.”

“Thank you for helping me today.” “Thank you for the great advice.” “Thank you for making me feel better.” “Thank you for all that you do.”

2. Come prepared.

Show up for your doctor’s appointment as if it’s a job interview – for your health. Get all of your ducks in a row before you walk in the door.

If you are visiting a new doctor, bring your health history and medication list, including any vitamins or supplements that you take.

Bring your three biggest questions, and be prepared to answer questions, too.

If you’re coming in to talk about a “mysterious” condition, make a list of any recent changes to your life (moving to a new house, starting a new job, switching to a new cosmetic line – anything that might be a cause.)

Set an intention for each visit. Know what you want, so that you and your physician can get right down to it.

3. Be patient. (No pun intended!)

The average wait time to see a doctor is 23 minutes.

Instead of getting annoyed, plan those 23 minutes into your schedule, and use them. Maybe you could answer a few emails, giggle while flipping through a funny book or go over the questions that you want to ask your physician, one more time.

Some delays are due to system inefficiencies with paperwork, electronic medical records, scheduling and habits. These are inexcusable, and we need to work hard on improving.

But just as often when your doctor is running behind, it just means that an earlier patient needed some extra attention. If that patient was your child, your partner, or your parent, you’d want them to receive the best possible care. We are all human, and sometimes our needs don’t fit into a 15-minute time slot.

At the end of the day, it really doesn’t take much to become every doctor’s “dream patient.”

So, go ahead – make your doctor’s day!