Coping with time-crunched physicians

What patients can do to get the most out of their office visits

It’s not your imagination – you’re getting less time with your doctor.

Primary care physicians are in short supply in the United States, which means increased pressures and heavier workloads for those in practice, says Dr. Paul Griner, (, author of “The Power of Patient Stories: Learning Moments in Medicine.

“Many physicians say their favorite part of being a doctor is the relationships they form with patients, but those are harder to cultivate now because physicians are so squeezed for time,” Griner says.

More than 80 percent of physicians said patient relationships were the “most satisfying” part of their job, according to a survey of more than 13,000 doctors last year by The Physicians Foundation.

But nearly 40 percent said they were seeing 11 to 20 patients a day, and nearly 27 percent had a daily load of 21 to 30.  On top of that, they spent an average 22 percent of their day on paperwork that had nothing to do with patient care.

“A good doctor-patient relationship is essential to achieving the best possible care, but the reality is, most doctors have less and less time to spend with each patient,” Griner says. “So it’s important for patients to take some responsibility for that relationship, too.”

By preparing for your visit, you can ensure you make the best use of your time together, he says.

He offers the following suggestions:

  •  Prepare your thoughts ahead of time so that you can be as precise and accurate as possible. What are the symptoms? When did they begin? What were you doing at the time? How are the symptoms affected by activity or rest? What makes them worse? Have you been  able to do anything to relieve the symptoms? How have they affected your daily activities? Don’t withhold any information that might be relevant to your symptoms.
  • Be on time or early. Up to 15 percent of patients are late for their doctor’s appointment, which adds to the time crunch. Arrive early so you’re ready when the physician, or the physician’s team, is ready. While the doctor is the senior person on the team, he or she also relies on advanced practice nurses and physician’s assistants, who have received extensive training in their  areas of responsibility. Give them time to obtain your medical history or perform preliminary tests. Their functions are an important aspect of the overall quality of the visit, so it’s important to allow for that time. View the wait as valuable personal time for reading and relaxation.
  • Research your health concerns ahead of time and use the information to help focus your questions. Use reliable sources for research, including <>  or <> ; information from the  well-established and respected organizations such as the National Cancer  Society; and written materials such as the Harvard Health Letter.
  • Avoid unnecessary office visits. Some things can be done by e-mail, Skype (or other video hookups), or new technology such as iPhone recording and transmission of your EKG.

Other things you can do to make the best use of the visit include:

  • Bring your medications, or a list of them, with you.
  • Bring copies of the results of tests or procedures from other physicians.
  • Wear clothes that make it easy for you to be examined.
  • Let your doctor know when you are using any complementary or alternative medicine.
  • Bring a spouse or other relative with you when the problem is complicated. Two pairs of ears are better than  ne for remembering what the doctor said.

Hematologist/internist Paul Griner has had a 59-year career in medicine. He is a professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry and was a consultant at the Massachusetts General Hospital, senior lecturer at Harvard Medical School, and consultant to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) in Cambridge, Mass. He has written or co-written 130 journal articles, book chapters, and books on clinical medicine, medical education, and health policy. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and was president of a number of national medical organizations, including the American College of Physicians.