7 Habits That Secretly Annoy Your Doctor
Medical doctors around the country told us what they might not be telling you: Your own behaviors could be getting in your way of getting the highest standard of care possible.
Some not so great news: America is experiencing a physician shortage—and it’s only expected to get worse. According to 2021 data published by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034. The projections suggest this could equate to nearly 50,000 fewer primary care physicians (working out to an average 1,000 fewer PCPs in every state) and up to 124,000 fewer specialists—think oncologists who lead cancer care, endocrinology specialists who are experts with diabetes, pain doctors, cardiologists and dermatologists, just to name a few.
Low rates of physician satisfaction is one reason for the anticipated decline, according to a 2018 survey from The Physicians Foundation. An overwhelming majority of physicians reported feelings of burnout and operating at full capacity. There are plenty of healthcare systems that pressure doctors to see as many patients as possible in a given hour or day, which, of course, is exhausting for your physician…not to mention that most want to give every patient their best, which might feel increasingly impossible with so many patients to see.
How can you meet your doctor halfway? Help them help you. We spoke with three healthcare providers who say these are the most common behaviors that can get in their way of delivering the best care.
1. Not coming prepared
If it feels like the time in the exam room at your doctor’s appointment goes by in the blink of an eye, you’re not alone. (Some trivia: A 2007 study on time allocation in primary care offices found that the average length of a visit to be 17.4 minutes. A lot can change in a decade and a half.) When time is not on your side, there are some simple ways to come prepared that can help make the most of the allotted window.
Whether you’re seeing a new provider or one you’ve seen for years—even if you think you have it all top of mind—try writing down a list to share with your provider at the appointment ahead of time. “I recommend patients bring a detailed list of their concerns and symptoms, as well as a timeline of onset and how often they’re occuring,” says Aline C. Zeringue, ACNS-BC a nursing leader and the owner of ATX Primary Care of Austin, TX.
In addition, you’ll want to come prepared with the physical bottles—or photos of the labels—for all medications you’re taking. According to Dr. Robert J. Usaitis, a family medicine specialist in DuBois, PA, this can help ensure your provider is up to speed on all current exact dosages you’ve been prescribed, especially if it’s your first time seeing the provider or you had it filled elsewhere.
If you’ve experienced any changes since your last visit, been to the emergency room, or seen a specialist, you’ll also want to let your primary care provider know, advises the National Institute on Aging.
2. Lying about medication or habits
The truth is, your doctor isn’t a mind-reader. In order for them to effectively provide care, they need to have honest and detailed information about your medical history, sexual activity, and habits, all of which can only come from you.
“I think patients sometimes forget that the doctor isn’t there to punish you or make you feel bad about your habits or choices,” says Payton Reiter, MD, a family medicine practitioner in Austin, TX. “The doctor’s goal is to improve your life and help you make informed decisions about your care, so patients need to allow providers to guide them by providing information.”
From smoking habits to any supplements you’re taking, all of the information about your day-to-day life helps your provider meet you with the best possible suggestions and solutions. For that reason, lying to your doctor is likely a lose-lose.
3. Avoiding regular checkups
In order to get the best possible experience from your healthcare appointment, staying on top of regular screenings and checkups is a must. Zeringue says not only does this establish a continuity of care, but can also help patients find greater confidence in tracking their symptoms and health history.
Additionally, Dr. Usaitis encourages patients to come prepared to appointments with any previously ordered blood work or labs already completed and forwarded over for record. That way, results and your questions about them can be discussed during the valuable time with your provider.
4. Slacking on daily wellness habits
All the little things we do—and don’t do—add up to paint the picture of our overall health and wellness. Certain lifestyle habits, such as the amount of sleep you’re getting each night and the foods in your diet, can play a crucial role in your well-being.
“Sleep, especially quality sleep, is so important to prevent chronic disease and also support mental health,” says Dr. Reiter. “Drinking alcohol, especially more than two or three drinks, prior to going to bed will decrease REM sleep and negatively impact sleep quality.”
Additionally, if you’re someone who works from home or sits for extended periods of time at a desk—you’ll want to ensure you’re getting enough movement throughout the day to avoid the health risks associated with being sedentary.
Remember that your daily practices might seem super typical to you, but flagging them could lead to an insight from your doctor that you wouldn’t expect.
(And, Dr. Reiter’s advice: Move more. Paying attention to how many steps you take a day will make you consider what lifestyle changes you can make to encourage healthier habits. This could mean taking the stairs if you’re only going a few floors or taking a walk on your lunch break.)
5. Being distracted by your phone
The most common doctor’s office waiting room method of distraction has shifted from flipping through the pages of glossy magazines to scrolling smartphones (though we’re still partial to a good old hard copy of Reader’s Digest!). But when patient cell phone use continues into the exam room and the clinician visit, it can be harmful—and downright annoying for providers.
And while scrolling on Instagram and Facebook is just fine while you wait for your name to be called, once you’re in the exam room, it’s common courtesy to put your phone away with the ringer off and give healthcare providers the same undivided attention you expect from them.
6. Chatting on your phone
This next pointer probably goes without saying, but talking on your phone—whether you’re in the waiting room or exam room—should be avoided as much as possible. Strangers (or even people you know from a close-knit community who happen to be sitting near you in the office) have enough on their minds at the doctor’s office without listening to you. If it’s essential to take a call, let the registration desk know and slip elsewhere for privacy.
And if you’re scrolling videos or social media reels in the waiting room, remember to wear your ear buds. Practice consideration when it comes to how much noise you make at the doctor’s. It can be one of the most sensitive and anxiety-filled places, especially for your neighbor in the waiting room who might be unsure of what they’re about to learn when they meet with the doctor privately.
A good rule of thumb from the doctors we spoke with? Just put the phone away.
7. Self-diagnosing from an internet search
Most people think Googling their symptoms will help them feel at ease, but when you’re looking for the worst-case scenario, that bias can often impact your search results. While it can be helpful for a patient to do research in order to narrow down symptoms, Dr. Usaitis says self-diagnosis can oftentimes lead to more unnecessary anxiety.
“When patients have themselves convinced about certain signs and symptoms,” he says, “you almost feel obligated to order tests that may not be necessary to more or less appease their fear, even if what they read isn’t actually the problem.”
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- Payton Reiter, MD, a family medicine practitioner in Austin, Texas
- Robert J. Usaitis, DO, family medicine specialist at Penn Highlands Healthcare in DuBois, PA
- Aline C. Zeringue, ACNS-BC, Adult Health Clinical Nurse Specialist and owner of ATX Primary Care
- TIME: “The U.S. Physician Shortage Is Only Going to Get Worse. Here Are Potential Solutions”
- The Physicians Foundation: “2018 Survey of America's Physicians”