Episode 054: How to Have A Productive Doctor's Visit

Episode 054: How to Have A Productive Doctor's Visit

How many times have you made an appointment to see your doctor, only to have the whole visit last approximately 7-10 minutes? And you found yourself leaving thinking, “that’s it?!" And you can’t help but feel dismissed, misunderstood, not heard and worst of all - not believed.

In this episode, I get very tactical and offer up ideas on how to make the most of the challenges of the current health care system, specifically how to make your doctor’s visits more productive.

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Tell me if you can relate to this scenario:

You’re not feeling well. You’re not quite sure what exactly going on, but you’re feeling “off.” You try a lot of different things but yet you can’t seem to shake the feeling that there’s something more going on than beneath the eye.

So you make an appointment to see your doctor. The soonest they can get you in is a few weeks. Alright, you take it because what other option do you have? So you continue to live with this “off feeling” of unwellness until your appointment day arrives.

When you finally get to your appointment, your doctor asks you a series of questions and then writes you a prescription and sends you on your way.

And the whole visit took approximately seven minutes. Ten if we’re being generous.

You leave the office thinking, “that’s it? I waited a few weeks for that?” And you can’t help but feel dismissed, misunderstood, not heard and worst of all - not believed.

So then you pick up your prescription and eventually get the bill for your portion of the visit that’s wasn’t covered by insurance and have sticker shock seeing what it all cost.

And all you can think of is, “What am I paying for here? My doctor didn’t do anything for me.”

Raise your hand if this sounds familiar. I’m raising mine.

This happened to me so many times.

Like the time my general practitioner told me that some people “just have” IBS. Or when the gastroenterologist told me that he doesn’t know anything about nutrition and would have to refer me to the Nutrition Department.

I was like, “What.” First of all, I don’t think the human body was made for some people to “just have” IBS. Or how can a doctor of the digestive system not know anything about nutrition?

These kinds of situations left me, and leaves all of us feeling frustrated like doctors aren’t even helpful and quite frankly, a waste of time.

Like they don’t know me, they don’t care to know what’s going on with me and what’s the point of even seeing them? Because when we seek help from someone whose job it is to help feel better and then not receive it can feel hurtful and can build contentious feelings.

But before we go harping on our conventional doctors, let’s take a moment to understand that they are operating in a situation that’s beyond their control.

I don’t believe that doctor’s don’t care. I believe that they do care about each patient they see.

And I’m sure they would love to spend more time with each patient, but they’re restricted by the current health care system and the limitations placed on them by insurance companies. Like us, many doctors are just as frustrated with it. And they have to deal with a bunch of red tape, just like we do.

So what can we do?

A couple of episodes back, in Episode 052, “Taking Responsibility for Your Health By "Backing Things Up" I talked about how healthcare is a personal responsibility. And there are a ton of things we can do for ourselves that are within our own power and capabilities to help us feel better.

So you can go back and listen to that episode if you haven’t already.

But what I want to get into today is to get very tactical and offer up some ideas on how to make the most of the current healthcare situation that we’re in today, specifically how to make our doctor’s visits more productive.

Now we can wallow in negativity about the enormous problems of our health care system, or we can shift our thinking and make the most of it.

A few years ago, I had a manager who I just could not work with. This person micro-managed to the degree that caused me enormous amounts of anxiety and stress. I mean, I could not even see an email in my Inbox with this person name without my stomach churning.

But to this person’s credit, they once gave me the best advice I’ve ever received by telling me to always put myself in the other person’s shoes. And this is something that has stayed with me ever since and has to be valuable in practically every difficult situation.

And for me, this kinda goes hand-in-hand with looking for the root cause. Not WHAT is going on, but WHY is happening.

So WHY is someone behaving the way they’re behaving.

So if you aren’t happy with how your doctor is behaving, or how they are treating you, why? Is it because you don’t feel like you’re not being heard? Is it because you don’t think they’re being thorough enough? Is it because you want more than just a prescription?

And if so, what can you do about it?

I’m a very big believer in not wasting energy on the things that I have no control over. And, instead of just accepting the status quo and then complaining about it, I ask myself, how can I make the best of the situation in a way that will benefit me?

How can we make the most of the seven minutes or whatever limited time that we have with our doctors?

Now, what I’m going to share will be helpful whether you are seeing a conventional doctor, or even an integrative, naturopathic of functional medicine doctor.

Based on my personal experiences, and what I’ve observed with some of my clients, and even my own friends and family members who come to me for help, what I observed is that these situations can be made better by two things:

Preparation Effective communication

How many times have you showed up at your doctor’s office for your highly anticipated appointment, and when the doctor walks in and asks, “What brings you in today?” you say, “I don’t feel well.”

And..that’s it.

I mean, what is your doctor supposed to do with that?! If they only have, let’s say 7-10 minutes with you, and I kinda feel like that’s being generous, that doesn’t give them a lot of time to probe.

Where would they even start? When someone says, I’m not feeling well, I have a headache, or I’m tired all the time, there are a million things that could be going on.

So how about, showing up for your doctors visit prepared?

What do I mean by that?

Well for starters, each one of us, every single one of us, inherently knows our bodies better than anyone else. Even our doctors. We know deep in our gut when something is off.

So start with capturing those clues and messages by keeping a log or a journal of everything - and I mean everything! From what you’ve been eating and how you’re feeling - in a chronological format. And I would say to do this for at least 5-7 days before your appointment, if not longer.

I have talked about this extensively in many, many past episodes, in particular, Episode 010.

Keep track of:

  • What you’ve eaten and when you ate it
  • How you’ve slept and the quality of your sleep
  • The frequency and consistency of your poop! Yes, you heard me correctly, your poop
  • What medications and supplements you’re currently taking, and when you’re taking them
  • When you exercised, what kind of exercise was it, what was the intensity of the workout
  • How much water are you drinking
  • When are your symptoms appearing
  • And any other antecedents that could be an influencing variable

You get the idea.

Create a timeline and collect data so that when your doctor walks into the exam room, and asks, “What brings you in today?” you can pull out your notebook and say, “Here doc, here’s all of this data that I’ve collected” that will then provide context to your, “I’m not feeling well.”

And your doctor can quickly skim through it and zero in on specific things that can they ask further questions on.

Now if this is a new-to-you doctor, I would also suggest compiling your health history together. What does that look like?

Well for me, I have a binder that has all of lab test results that are also compiled into a spreadsheet to see trends over time, I have all of my doctors visit summaries, past treatment plans - all from my past visits with my general practitioner, functional medicine and integrative medicine doctors, chiropractor, therapists - anyone who’s been a part of my healthcare team, I’ve collected documentation from them and put them all together in one place.

As a side note: as a crazy dog mom, I also have a binder with all of Coco Pop’s health history too.

It is not an unusual site for me to walk into my doctor's office with a huge work bag with my binder and pull it out for him to review. I can tell you that it has made my conversations with him so much more effective and meaningful and he always thanks me for being so thorough.

You also prepare yourself by having a list of specific questions ready to ask AND having a notepad and pen ready to take notes. Because how many times have we left a doctors office and forgot something that they told us.

During your visit, listen very carefully to what your doctor is saying and ask questions about ANYTHING that isn’t clear.

This is so, so, so important!

Now, she may get mad at me for sharing this, but I’m going to anyway.

My mother has an autoimmune disease and she has a whole team of doctors who she’s regularly. She used to have a doctor who just didn’t clarify things for her. I would ask her how her visit went, and ask questions that she didn’t know the answers too, because he didn’t explain things well and she didn’t ask.

So I pushed to be on the phone during her doctor's visits which she was adamantly opposed to because if you know me, you know that I get fired up about these things and I would have challenged her doctor.

BUT that’s only because 1. Her doctor wasn’t clear and 2. She didn’t feel empowered to ask questions.

Preparedness and effective communication. This is what makes a powerful partnership between the patient and doctor, or even client and practitioner or coach.

If you have ever felt intimidated or been made to feel small and not comfortable asking questions - let me be very clear - it is your right and your responsibility to ask any questions of your doctor as it pertains to your own health. Remember, they are providing you a SERVICE, they are NOT an authority over you!

Communication with your doctor should always be a two-way street! My doctor always wants my input and thoughts on things he is recommending because, at the end of the day, I know my body best.

If you have a doctor who is annoyed by you asking questions, find another doctor!

It is a MUCH better experience for you AND your doctor when it is a joint partnership!

And I promise you that most doctors, conventional or holistic, WILL appreciate the efforts you put into having a productive visit because it’s a better use of their time too.

So the next time you have a doctors visit, don’t show up empty-handed. Have notes with data you collected, provide context and clues - help them, help you!

That’s it for this week! Once again, you can find me at www.livefablife.com, join my email list for insider exclusives, weekly updates and find out how we can work together too! Thanks for listening and I’ll see you next week!


Naomi Nakamura is a Functional Nutrition Health Coach. Through her weekly show, The Live FAB Live Podcast, programs, coaching services and safer skincare solutions, she helps people with chronic skin issues clear up their skin by teaching them where food meets physiology and how food, gut health, stress, and toxins are intricately connected to the health and appearance of our skin. Naomi resides in the San Francisco Bay Area and can often be found romping around the city with her puppy girl, Coco Pop!
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