How much time should you spend with your primary care doctor? As a consumer, do make sure that you leave the consultation session satisfied that your health is well taken care of.
Not everyone likes to see a doctor, especially when sick, including perhaps some doctors too!
Such patients probably feel vulnerable because, apart from already not feeling well, they’d have to discuss some, perhaps very, personal matters regarding whatever ails them on that day.
There are also those who will give various excuses simply to avoid seeing the doctor even when they are quite sick.
Then, on the other extreme are those who just love to visit and spend time with their doctor. These people are distinct from, but may also include, those labeled hypochondriacs who imagine they afflicted by all kinds of ailments.
Wherever you fall within this spectrum, whether you really relish or dread the time spent with your doctor, have you really given any thought to how much time you should really spend when you meet up with your local general practitioner?
In order to answer this question, let’s look at a few factors:
1. Your doctor is not a drug dealer
When you see your local primary care doctor, you should not be the one dictating the treatment and drugs to be prescribed. The general practice clinic is not a convenient corner drug store where you dictate your needs for a quick fix and merely have the doctor sign on the prescription.
Dropping by the clinic and ‘dictating’ your medication needs could very well mean the visit can be very quick for you. But is that what you really want? Is that what is really best for you or your loved ones?
The point of visiting the doctor is to get the right treatment through consultation and examination.
The doctor will spend an amount of time at his or her discretion to examine and question you about your ailment and general state of health.
So, why not let the doctor’s training and experience decide what is the most suitable course of treatment?
After all, you are paying for that time as part of the consultation fee.
2. Some Q&A is part of the consultation process
When you see the doctor, he or she will usually ask questions about your illness. The answers to these questions will provide a background that may aid the doctor in coming up with a diagnosis. Preparing for these questions will enable the consultation session to go much more smoothly and perhaps also end more quickly.
This Q&A session is also a two-way street. If you have doubts or are not clear about some of the questions or explanation that the doctor has given, do take the time to ask and clarify.
If you feel clarifications and further explanations are necessary, do not hesitate to ask. If you do have any lingering questions or uncertainties, make sure you voice them out, even if just to enquire why some drugs need to be taken before meals and some after meals.
Not getting your prescribed treatment correct may result in you following up on the wrong treatment and will only prolong your ailment or perhaps even require more visits to the doctor.
3. Examination and diagnostics tests
The consultation session may also require a physical examination to be carried out. Obviously, if you’re complaining about a pain in your ear canal, the first place for the doctor to check would be the ear in question and not just take your word for it.
Other examples of common examinations include a throat examination or even an ultrasonogram or ultrasound examination. Some of these examination procedures may take a bit more time while others like a throat examination can be fast.
In some cases, it may also be necessary for the doctor to request diagnostic tests to be carried out.
This may involve drawing blood or taking other samples for diagnostic tests. These extra procedures will of course result in more time spent with the doctor.
Do take note that if the doctor requests for extra procedures such as diagnostic tests, it probably means that the tests are necessary either to enable or confirm a diagnosis. A doctor will not ethically request unnecessary procedures to be done simply so that he or she can charge you extra for them.
How Much Time Should I Spend with the Doctor?
The three factors I’ve listed above are a guide as to how much time you should spend with the doctor. As a consumer, it can also be a guide as to how much time your doctor should spend with you.
So, how much time does that equal to in minutes? As a guide, the time you spend with your doctor can be as little as five minutes to 15 minutes. The amount of time within this range is still considered normal.
In some cases, it may exceed 15 minutes if multiple procedures need to be carried out or should there be complications or anomalies with the routine procedures. The times I’ve stated here should be used as a guide and can vary under different circumstances and situations.
Does More Time with the Doctor Cost Extra?
Does spending more time consulting with the doctor mean you have to pay more? The easy direct answer to that is ‘No’. Consultation with your doctor is not exactly like a taxi ride with the meter running. Consultation charges for most practices are usually fixed.
If your consultation session is quite straight forward and takes only five minutes, or if you have a lot of queries and end up spending 10 minutes with the doctor, it is most likely that the consultation charges will remain the same.
The range for consultation charges in Malaysia can vary from clinic to clinic or even geographical location of the clinic. So do make the best of the time you spend with your doctor. As a consumer, you should get your money’s worth.
Indirectly however, the more time you spend can mean higher charges. In many practices, these charges are transparent and will usually be associated with other procedures such as ultrasound or diagnostic tests, in addition to the consultation charges.
As a final note on consultation charges, you should note that these fees are generally not high. If you’re willing to pay even higher ‘consultation fees’ in other business dealings, you should not even think about compromising on investments on your greatest asset – your own health.
Other Things to Pay Attention To During Consultation
There are some of us who feel quite comfortable having a discussion about health issues with the primary care doctor. I generally encourage patients to voice out their worries or other health problems that may not be related to their visit.
However, do remember to be considerate about other patients in the waiting room who are just as entitled to and in need of the time with the doctor. As a general rule, try to avoid too much unnecessary or unrelated conversation that may distract the doctor’s attention from the problem at hand and may also take up your precious time.
Having said that, do make sure that you leave the consultation session satisfied that your health is well taken care of and that you have no lingering issues or questions that need clarification. Hopefully, regardless of whether you’re comfortable or uncomfortable with spending time with your primary care physician, this short guide can help make the best use of that time.
Do you wait till you’re awfully sick before heading to a doctor, or vice versa? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page!
Contributed by: Dr Idayu Maarof