Aging Options

As Doctor’s Visits Get Shorter, You Need to Ask the Right Questions

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Does it seem to you that your doctor has less and less time to spend with you?

We hear it over and over, from doctors and from their patients: because of changes in our health care system, doctors believe they have to see more and more patients in less and less time. This means, when you go to see your doctor, it feels like he or she may have precious few minutes to spend with you.  For most patients, the days when your doctor would have a leisurely office conversation with you are long gone.

One study we read suggested that about half of all doctor’s visits last 16 minutes or less. The fact is that this statistic doesn’t appear to have changed dramatically in the past decade or more, but still the perception lingers that your physician is busily trying to convey more information to you in less time than ever before. So how can you plan ahead to make the most of your doctor’s visit? What are some of the most important questions you need to ask during the brief time you’ll spend in his or her office?

We found this helpful article early last year on the website, and we’re sharing it here once again because we think it provides some very worthwhile answers to the question of how to make the most of precious time with your medical provider. The article is titled, “10 Questions You Should Ask Your Doctor.” The idea is simple: since you seem to have less and less face time with your doctor, you need to make the most of it in order to get the best health care your physician can provide. These helpful questions are excellent whether you’re an aging patient or a loved one responsible for a senior’s medical care. If you want the entire list we suggest you consider printing a copy of the article and sharing it with your physician.

The article starts with some questions you should ask your doctor if this is your first visit, or if you haven’t seen him or her for over a year. It suggests you begin with the basics, for example, by asking, “What is your schedule?”  Don’t assume he or she is there every weekday during “normal” hours – especially if your doctor is part of a clinic where evening or weekend hours are not uncommon. If you haven’t seen your doctor in a while, his or her hours may have changed since your last visit. Get this information clarified right at the outset.

A second related question you should ask upfront is, “What’s the best way for me to communicate with you about test results, lab work or general questions?”  Some doctors use the telephone, while others rely on email. Some only call with bad news, while others inform patients about everything. You deserve to know exactly what to expect. The article quotes a Cleveland Clinic physician who reminds patients, “You should leave the doctor’s office understanding the [communication] plan. It sounds very obvious, but a lot of patients don’t know how and when results will be communicated.” Asking the easier questions like this one up front will save a lot of harder questions later.

Here’s an unusual question we found interesting: a patient can ask the doctor, “What can I tell you about myself that will help you remember me?” As the article points out, your doctor sees hundreds of patients every month, and the more he or she remembers you, the better your individual care will be. At least, the article suggests, this question will get your doctor thinking!

Some other questions from the article may seem obvious, but for some reason many patients hesitate to ask them. Here are a few examples.

  • You need to be upfront when you ask, “What’s my diagnosis?” And when you ask, make sure you understand the answer before you leave the office – insist on clarity!
  • It’s perfectly fine to ask, “How long until it gets better?” Again, try to get a clear, easy to understand response, and pin the doctor down about the specifics.
  • If extra drugs or tests are ordered, don’t be afraid to ask, “Can you explain why you’re ordering a test or prescription?” Your doctor should be able to provide a clear explanation, and you should expect an answer you can understand.
  • Finally, don’t leave without asking, “When do you want to see me next?” Make sure you clearly understand the next step in your care plan. Otherwise the long wait before your next appointment can be a stressful, uncertain time of delay.

The article concludes with a question that’s one of our favorites. When you’re feeling scared, uneasy or confused during a medical appointment, look your doctor in the eye and ask, “Can I stop you for a minute?” As the article puts it, “Save this question for when you don’t understand what the physician is saying to you or when you are feeling scared. This lets the doctor know that you need a minute to collect your thoughts.”  You deserve as much information during your appointment as possible, so don’t be afraid to insist on clarification.

Here at AgingOptions, the best recommendation we can make for seniors to ensure optimum health care is to make a geriatrician part of your health care team. A geriatrician is a doctor who specializes in senior health care. When you consult with a geriatrician, you’re talking with a professional who already has a deep understanding of your health care needs. If you’ll contact our office, we can recommend a geriatrician in your area.

What about understanding your retirement needs? Working with clients to develop a personalized retirement plan is our professional specialty. We call it a LifePlan, and it would be our privilege to help you create a comprehensive, personalized roadmap to guide you into a retirement that is secure and fruitful. Your LifePlan weaves your medical care together with financial, housing, legal and family considerations to create a powerful retirement strategy – and the best way to start learning more is by attending one of our free LifePlanning Seminars, held frequently throughout the region. To register for a LifePlanning Seminar near you, simply click here.

And make sure to bring your questions! We’ll do our best to provide you with helpful answers. See you soon at a LifePlanning Seminar near you.

(originally reported at

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