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What You Don't Want to Say to Your Doctor
There are some things that you want to explain to your doctor, and some things you really should stay away from.

A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine raised quite a few eyebrows. It found that patients had an average of 18 seconds to tell their doctors what the problem was before they were interrupted. A series of other studies that came later were even more surprising – one published in

Family Medicine found that patients had, on average, just 12 seconds to talk before they were cut off.

There's an important lesson to be learned from this. It's how to talk to your doctor to make sure you get the best possible use of those first few seconds when you tell your story.

What every doctor really wants to hear is what you are experiencing, what your symptoms are, what you feel, when you feel it, and how long you've felt it.

The chances are good that the doctor won't cut you off when you are giving this kind of relevant information, except perhaps to ask questions.

What your doctor really doesn't want to hear – and the point at which he or she will most likely cut you off – is what you think it might be, or what your friends said they thought it was, or what you found in a chat room on the Internet.

Doctors generally do respect a well-informed patient, but there is a fine line between educating yourself on medical sites on the one hand, and getting caught up in the hype of less reputable materials on the other. One big problem with searching on the Internet is that when we see a list of symptoms, most of us will immediately start to think we have all of them. It's a funny thing and perfectly natural – doctors even have a term for it: Medical student syndrome. But it's not useful or helpful in the examining room, so it's best to leave all that at home.

Like they used to say on Dragnet, "Just the facts." It helps to think it through while you're in the waiting room to get your thoughts in order. The first thing you want to say after "Hello Doctor," is "The reason I've come to see you today is that…" followed by a few simple, direct words that describe the thing that made you decide to seek medical advice.

  • What is the one thing that stands out or first made you think there might be a problem?
  • What are your symptoms? Describe things such as pain, swelling, restriction of motion, rash, cough, nausea, loss of appetite, persistent diarrhea, a funny lump somewhere, blurry vision, dizziness – whatever is going on.
  • When did you first notice or experience this, how severely, and how often?
  • Have you changed your lifestyle significantly? Moved to a new home, joined an exercise program, quit smoking, started a new diet?
  • Are you taking any prescription medications, over-the-counter drugs or herbal supplements?
  • Has there been a major change in your life around this time?

Things like losing a job or starting a new one, a breakup in a relationship, a major family event, or whatever is happening.
This is the information your doctor needs in order to know what to look for, where to look, what to test, and what questions to ask you. Everything else is pretty much beside the point.

There is one exception to the "just the facts" rule, though. While it is not generally helpful to tell the doctor what you think it is, it can sometimes be important to explain what you're worried it might be. This can be vital information in your family doctor's goal of "treating the whole patient." If you clearly explain your fear, he or she can talk to you, explain what's going on and either lay your fears to rest or put them in a manageable perspective.

If there is a topic that you would like me to write about,
please email me at billz@callerygroup.com.

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