Think of your happiest relationships, and there’s a good chance each one requires open communication, honesty and trust. That goes for you and your doctor, too. Lie out of embarrassment, and she can’t treat you. Show up unshowered to a doctor visit, and she won’t want to. Ghost her too many times, and a break-up is inevitable.
Be a better partner and you’ll get better healthcare.
To uncover what to do—and what not to do—at the doctor’s office, we talked to the country’s top docs, and scoured the web’s top sources (for advice from the pros, as well as good old-fashioned gossip, too), to find the #1 things medical professionals say you should avoid at a doctor visit. Read on. Your life depends on it.
Never be a Passive listener.
Becoming an active listener, not a passive one, is the No. 1 way to be a better patient, say doctors Mikkael Sekeres and Timothy Gilligan of the Cleveland Clinic. They revealed in the New York Times that too many of their patients nod mechanically at what they’re saying, without fully understanding the information being relayed.
Recommendation: Asking questions, requesting that the doctor repeat something, taking notes or bringing along a family member who can do any of the above can help you become an active partner in your own care.
Never show up with a self-diagnosis and tell your doctor what to do.
There’s a fine line between an active listener and being a know-it-all. Consult Google to self-educate, not self-diagnose, says Suzanne Koven, a primary care internist at Massachusetts General Hospital. “I have enormous respect for patients’ autonomy and understanding of their own bodies, and to some extent doctors are working with patients in a collaboration,” she told Scientific American. “But to pretend that both parties are bringing the identical degree of information to the table is disingenuous. Once in a while somebody will come in determined that they need an MRI to rule out such and such or this drug to treat such and such, and I’ll have to say, ‘Whoa, slow down, let’s talk about you and your symptoms.’”
Recommendation: Do your research. Ask questions about anything you don’t understand. But leave the diagnosis to your doctor.
According to a survey conducted by ZocDoc, almost one-quarter of people lie to their doctors. (Women were slightly more likely to like, at 30%, compared to 23% of men.) Embarrassment and fear of being judged were the most common reasons given. Stop it right now! “Sugar-coating bad habits or nagging symptoms does not help,” advises David Longworth, MD, of the Cleveland Clinic. “Your doctors are confidential partners in your care. They need all the information available to help you make smart decisions. That includes everything from your habits to every medication you take, including over-the-counter drugs, herbal products, vitamins and supplements. If you aren’t consistently taking medication, talk to your doctor about why — including if you can’t afford them.”
Recommendation: Always be candid. Anything less is a waste of time. Leave embarrassment and shame behind. Your doctor is there to improve your health, not nag you.
Never leave things out.
According to the ZocDoc survey, 64 percent of seniors said they’ve avoided bringing up health issues with their doctor, because they didn’t think the problem was that serious or worth discussing. None of us want to perform a hypochondriac’s soliloquy at the doctor’s office, but it’s not the time for false modesty either.
Recommendation: If you think you might get tongue-tied in the moment, write down your symptoms or things you’d like to discuss with your doctor before your visit.
Never be late.
Remember the last time you sat in a waiting room, doing what the room was for, for an hour? That’s likely because people before you were late for their appointments, backing up the whole queue. Reinforcing this bit of common sense is a doctor who posted on Reddit: “Every outpatient office has time set aside for sick visits, and time blocked off for pre-scheduled visits,” wrote _PyramidHead_. “People will often call in when the office opens and ask for a sick visit to address their sore throat, whatever. More times than I can count, the person will say, ‘I can’t come in until 4:30,’ usually the last slot of the day. Which is fine, but when they then don’t show up, I’m pissed. Especially if the last pre-scheduled visit was as 3:15, and I waited around for an hour — only to have someone not show up.”
Recommendation: Keep your appointments and be on time. Or call to let the doctor’s office know what’s going on.
Never be a jerk to the office staff.
Don’t make a scene at the front desk about wait times or rant about a charge mandated by your insurance. “Complaining to the front office staff about your copay is pointless; they have no control over that,” wrote Redditor _PyramidHead_.
Recommendation: Be proactive: Call ahead to see if the office is running behind if you need to, stay informed about insurance features like your deductible, and read #8 on this list.
Never show up unshowered.
This one’s common sense (and common courtesy). Unfortunately, judging from postings by medical staff on social media, it’s an all-too-common occurrence. Remember when mom asked if you were wearing clean underwear, in case you were in an accident and ended up in a doctor’s care? Mom was right.
Recommendation: You don’t have to prep like it’s a date, but be clean.
Never not know what your insurance covers.
It’s near the bottom of the list of last things any of us want to do: Spend time on the phone with the health-insurance company. But if you’re having a procedure, need medical devices, or are prescribed new medication, it’s better to call ahead and check in than be caught with a bill — and have to spend more time on the phone — after the fact. If you need a colonoscopy, the procedure might be covered, but not a particular facility or anesthesiologist.
Recommendation: Call ahead to check. If you have concerns, tell your doctor.
Never not know what medications you’re on.
This is a frequent complaint voiced by doctors and other medical professionals. If you’re seeing a new doctor who might not have access to your records, he or she won’t mind at all if you bring along a cheat sheet with your meds listed. It could prevent drug interactions and big problems down the line.
Recommendation: Jot down your medications and dosages and bring the information along to your doctor visit, or keep it on your phone.
Never ignore medication instructions.
Always take medication as prescribed. Failure to do so is one of the top complaints medical professionals voice on social media. On Reddit, a doctor going by the nickname AstralResolve explained their frustration with a common scenario: “‘I stopped taking the antibiotics cause I started to feel better. Now I’m sick again and the antibiotics aren’t as effective.’ Every freaking time. We instruct, you disregard, bugs get stronger and more resistant.”
Redditor walrustude, a doctor, said noncompliance based on online research was his top gripe: “Straight up refusal to follow medical advice or to agree to taking one pill a day known to dramatically improve symptoms, all because this mommy blog said the best thing is apple cider vinegar or because WebMD suggested cold showers.” Your doctor doesn’t mind questions based on your research; just don’t present them with something you read online as fact that applies to your particular case.
Recommendation: Follow prescription instructions to the letter, and voice any concerns to your doctor.
Never conceal that you’ve stopped taking your medication.
This is another frequent occurrence, medical professionals say. “People stop taking medications all the time, usually because they feel better or can’t afford the cost. It’s a chronic situation, especially as Americans get older,” writes aging expert Barbara Hannah Grufferman on HuffPost. Remember #3 and #4 on this list — a doctor’s visit is a time for total honesty. Anything less is counterproductive.
Recommendation: Tell your doctor everything. If finances are an issue, be blunt. (Your doctor or office staff may be able to help with co-pay cards or other solutions.)
Never get too many second opinions.
A second opinion is great. A fifth, not so much. “I’m a huge fan of second opinions,” Orly Avitzur, MD, wrote in Consumer Reports. “I encourage my own patients to seek them out when faced with a difficult diagnosis or decision, and I’ve provided them as well. But there’s a limit. A recent patient was paralyzed by indecision after seeking several medical opinions (I was number seven), all with slightly different recommendations. Medicine frequently involves judgment calls, and sooner or later you’ll have to trust one of them.”
Recommendation: Know when to say when. More information isn’t always better.
Never bring relatives along who take over the conversation.
“While I don’t yet bring anyone into my doctor’s appointments, I do accompany both my mother and mother-in-law to theirs,” says Grufferman. “They are 75 and 83, respectively, and a second set of ears and eyes is always a good thing, especially when the doctor is discussing procedures, medicine and follow-up recommendations. In this case, I believe physicians welcome my presence, as long as I don’t completely take over. I always take notes and ask the doctor to repeat or review something if I don’t understand.”
Recommendation: Ask well-meaning relatives who come along to your doctor visit to do more listening than talking.
Never be a no-show.
“Not only is not showing up when we were expecting you (and when we have called, texted, emailed, and sometimes all three to remind you that you have an appointment) rude and entitled, it also tells me that my time is not valuable, and that somehow you think you did not have to keep what essentially was a contract that you made with me when you made the appointment,” writes California physician Rebecca Levy-Gantt in a piece on Medium titled “How to be a Good Patient.”
Recommendation: If you can’t make your appointment, always let the doctor’s office know.
Never ask your doctor to lie.
This is a huge no-go. “Sometimes patients will ask me to go back and ‘code the visit differently,’” says Levy-Gantt. “I will not change the test codes or the visit codes to accommodate someone, since doing so is fraud, and not an appropriate or legal thing for me to do. Sorry. I will, however go to bat for a patient (and I have) if I think a patient absolutely needs a particular test done, and the insurance company denies it.”
Recommendation: Don’t ask your doctor to cheat the system. It’s unethical, and don’t you want a physician who’s honest at all times?