OBG(why)N: Some Tips on How to be a Good Patient

OBG(why)N: Some Tips on How to be a Good Patient

The doctor/patient relationship, especially the gyn, is an extremely intimate one. Many of these relationships span years or even decades. and as such they are crucial connections to respect and maintain (not just on the doctor’s side).

These days, I hear many patients complaining about doctors, however, it’s important to remember that all relationships are two-sided and there’s many things both sides can do to ensure a healthy, successful connection. Here are some tips, from the other side, on how to be a good patient:

Speak Up!

When you go to your doctors office for a check up, if you have a problem, you need to mention it. If a patient is coming in for a check up, they are usually scheduled for a 15 minute appointment. This includes an intake by a medical assistant and a physical exam including vital signs, a urine test, a breast exam and a pelvic exam with pap smear. The assumption is that you are healthy and well without any concerns. Prescriptions will be renewed and general recomendations will be reviewed. If you are having a major problem or concern, it is in your best interest to schedule a seperate problem visit so that you have adequate time to discuss your concerns. Sometimes, patients state that they feel rushed.

Calling may not the best way to go.

In any given day, I see somewhere between 20-40 patients and other types of doctors may see many more than that. In addition to that, I also review all the labwork and radiology tests that are ordered on my patients. Many times, that is more than 100 lab results per week. My primary commitment is to the patients who are in my office. If you are calling to review lab results or fill a prescription, that can often be handled on the phone throughout the day. If you have a major concern that requires a lengthy conversation, your best option is to come in. In that way, you get the undivided attention of your doctor, even if it is for 15 minutes!

Sometimes, we cannot diagnose you over the phone.

If you have a simple yeast infection or UTI, it is easy to treat over the phone. However, if you call your doctor and say things like “I feel weird down there,” “something is just not right,” “ I have a bump,” it is impossible to diagnose over the phone. It is in your best interest to be seen. Something that looks strange to you, we may have seen a thousand times. By coming in, you get an accurate diagnosis and the right treatment or referral if necessary.

If you call a doctor over the weekend when they are “on call,” please answer your phone when they call you back.

I have to tell you all that this is my biggest pet peeve. For many physicians, taking call is a necessary yet stressful part of life. After working all day, you are still available to answer emergency calls overnight, weekends and holidays. Many times, there are true emegencies which need to be taken care of and that is part of what we do. However, if you call your doctor outside of regular office hours for an emergency, realize that they are out and about living their life or sound asleep. If you call an emergency line, than stay by your phone and wait for the call back. Nothing is more frustrating than being awoken in the middle of the night, only to call a patient back and get their voicemail. Most physicians work very hard and our downtime is important to us. While we are happy to help, we’d like to do so in the least disruptive way possible.

Know your pharmacy phone number.

If you are calling your physician at night or over the weekend, have your pharmacy information available. When I am in my office, we have all of our patients pharmacy info stored and prescriptions can be sent with the click of a button. Over the weekend or at night, prescriptions have to be called in the old fashioned way. These prescriptions should again be for emergencies only. Routine prescriptions for birth control should be handled during regular office hours. If you call me at 2 a.m. with a raging urinary tract infection, I cannot help you if you tell me you use the pharmacy on Broadway near main street. Have the phone number ready before you call or look it up while you are waiting for me to call you back.

Be a big girl!

This one is specific to gyn only. In my mind, if you are old enough to have sex and be on a birth control pill, you are old enough to call your physician. DO NOT have your mother call me to tell me about your vagina. Mom’s opening line is always “She is away at school”. Today, most kids have a phone by age 10 or 11. Unless you are studying abroad, you can easily make a phone call to your gyno in between classes. I can get much more information directly from you than from your mother.

The same etiquette holds true in medicine as in all other aspects of life. Common courtesies and common sense go a long way to developing a lasting and fulfilling relationship. Most doctors are willing to go above and beyond to help their patients or they would not have chosen this profession in the first place. So, make it easy for your doctor to help you. It will benefit you in the long run!

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