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Meeting Your Doctor? You’d Better Speak Fast

AARP can help you communicate better with your physician at your next visit

Doctor talking with a patient

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Here is what patient-centered care should not look like — but too often does: You’ve made an appointment with your doctor and probably waited days or months to get into the waiting room. You’ve read stale magazines well past the designated hour before finally making it into an examination room. But when the doctor asks, “What brings you in?” you’d better talk fast, because a new study says you have only 11 seconds before the physician cuts you off.

This is a far cry from the kind of care we crave and deserve. I find the results of the study infuriating but, unfortunately, not surprising. Most of us like our own doctors, and we respect the scientific breakthroughs of modern medicine. But when we enter the health care system, we too often find ourselves dreading the experience and feeling powerless.

This matters deeply to me. I have spent my career as a nurse and as a professor teaching nurses. I’ve tried to teach the communicating and listening skills that are such an important part of patient care. And like so many of you, I have had disappointing experiences when dealing with health care professionals who lacked those skills.

A few years ago, my late husband was in his 70s and had Parkinson’s disease. We had an address in the Bronx, New York City’s poorest borough. When he appeared in an emergency room, they immediately started asking, “Where’s your Medicaid card? Are you sure you can afford this?” They looked at our zip code instead of talking with us. And by questioning our status, they instantly made us question their advice. It created a dangerous failure to connect.

AARP would like to help open the channels between you and your doctor. Our goal is to create a standard of care in which an individual’s health priorities and preferences are paramount, and questions and dialogue are welcome. Let’s begin with you, the patient. Here’s one great resource to help you tune in to your own health and get the most from interactions with health care providers: Nurses play a critical role in communication, so we are long-term supporters of an expanded role for them through the Center to Champion Nursing in America (

So much depends on your making sure that your doctor hears you and that you receive the message he or she is conveying. Let’s work together to close that communication gap and increase everyone’s chances for a better health outcome.

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