1. You don't arrive on time
"It drives [some] doctors crazy when patients turn up late for an appointment," says Mary Catherine Beach, M.D., of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. "You can see the irony in that because patients almost always have to wait to see their doctor." But quite often the reason you're left twiddling your thumbs is that someone who didn't arrive on time messed up the schedule. "If you come in late, I can almost guarantee that your doctor won't feel as happy toward you as if you'd been on time," she continues. Some doctors tolerate late arrivals better than others, but no one likes it.
Here's a tip: Ask for the the first appointment of the day, so you won't get caught up in other things before the appointment. This also works in the reverse — for doctors who always make you wait.
2. You treat your doctor's office as your personal assistant
"Some patients want you to take responsibility for running their lives," says Dennis Cope, M.D., of the UCLA Department of Medicine. "I saw a woman recently who had to make arrangements to get to another medical appointment. She decided transportation was a medical problem and asked the staff to organize it. That's inappropriate."
People who expected his assistant to run down and put money in the parking meter irked retired dentist Richard Price, former clinical instructor at the Boston University School of Dental Medicine. Even more outlandish, "one woman assumed I would pay her parking ticket because the meter ran out before I had finished treating her," he says.
Here's a tip: If the problem doesn't directly involve your health, don't make it your doctor's or dentist's responsibility.
3. You don't admit that you're not taking your medicine
Doctors become irritated with patients who don't take their medications. They don't know that their patients may not understand the directions, believe the drugs aren't working, experienced severe side effects or can't get to the pharmacy to fill the prescription.
New York University Medical Center cardiologist Richard Stein, M.D., says he has some patients who listen carefully, fill their prescriptions and then take exactly half as much as they should.
"If you don't tell me that you've cut the dose, I have to assume either that the medicine isn't working, in which case I'll switch you to a different one, or that the dose is too low, in which case I'll increase it," Stein continues. Neither choice solves the problem.
Here's a tip: If your doctor gives you a prescription for a medicine that you hesitate to take, ask why you need it, whether a lower dose would work and whether there's a substitute or less expensive alternative.
4. You diagnose your own medical problem and tell the doctor how to treat it
Doctors grumble about patients who diagnose their own ailments or direct their own treatment. "When patients start diagnosing their own problems, we all have a problem," says Boston University's Price. "I just want them to tell me their symptoms."
Stein of New York University has the same complaint: "I don't want a patient to tell me what tests to order. Why come to me if you're going to run your own case?" He adds, "It would be much better to ask, 'Does such-and-such a test make sense for me?' Then we could have a reasonable discussion."
Here's a tip: Ask the doctor's advice, don't give him yours.
5. You start asking questions just as the doctor heads out the door
To get the most out of the short time you have for an office visit — anywhere between 15 and 20 minutes at latest count — it pays to come prepared with a list of questions you'd like answered. But doctors inwardly groan when you pull out a long list just as your appointment's ending. To keep the smile on your doctor's face and get the answers you need, mention at the start of your appointment that you have some questions to go over. That way, says NYU's Stein, you'll alert your doctor to leave time at the end of the visit for your questions.
Here's a tip: If you have a lot of questions, there may not be time to answer all of them. Put a star next to the five most important ones and ask those first.
Nissa Simon, who lives in New Haven, Conn., writes about nutrition and medical issues.
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