2004-09-16 / Savvy Senior


Dear Savvy Senior

I’ve been seeing my doctor for years now and I like her a lot. She always does a great job and caught a couple of problems in the early stages - skin cancer, for example - that could have been severe. Lately, though, she seems much more rushed and less thorough. I noticed, too, that the waits are longer and there are more people in the waiting room. I told my husband that going to see our doctor anymore is like shopping at Wal-Mart on the weekend. It leaves me feeling exhausted and depressed I’m just wondering, am I alone here, or have others noticed the same thing, and what can we do about it?

Exhausted and Depressed

Dear Exhausted,

Lots of people have the Wal-Mart blues after visiting their doctor. More time in the waiting room and less time in the examination room is an increasing concern for many seniors today which can lead to the bigger problem of misdiagnosis. But, are doctors really busier now than before? Here are some things to consider that might indicate they are:

•A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that doctor’s office visits have increased over the last decade, from 18 minutes to 21 minutes.

•Doctors today are treating more complex cases during office visits instead of in the hospital as part of cost-saving efforts.

•Physicians have more paperwork today than ever before, given the insurance and legal ramifications of their practice.

Age and Information Boom

As our aging population continues to increase, so too do our trips to the doctor’s office. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than half of all patients visiting the doctor in 2001 were over age 45. A decade ago the average age was 42. Not only are patients older, but they are better informed, armed with information from the media, pharmaceutical advertising and the Internet, and they have more questions too. Doctors may be spending more time per patient, but they’re also handling more issues per visit, and that contributes to the rushed feeling and the unanswered questions. One study found that seven in 10 people leave their doctors’ offices wishing they had asked more questions.

Savvy Fact: Two studies from the Institute of Medicine show that at least 44,000, and perhaps as many as 98,000 Americans die in hospitals each year as a result of medical errors.

Patient Preparation

Here are a few things you can do to help make your next appointment more valuable for both you

and your doctor.

•Remember that you are the customer, so emphasize to the doctor how important it is to you to have your questions answered thoroughly and in layman’s language.

•Don’t beat around the bush, but speak candidly, even with problems that are embarrassing. The five or 10 minutes it takes to get around to some issues are five or 10 minutes they can spend on the problem once it is diagnosed.

•Before visiting your doctor, put together a list of your symptoms, when they started, your own personal medical history, including prescriptions, and even your family’s medical history. The more information you give your doctor, the more they can help.

•Put your questions in writing and don’t leave until you’ve reviewed the list.

•Bring someone with you. It is always helpful to have support, a second set of ears, and another person to help you think of questions.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, r visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is regular contributor tot he NBC Today Show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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