Collaborative Health Care - 10 steps to a productive 7 minutesResearch shows that physicians have about 7 minutes to spend with each of the many patients they see every day.
Planning ahead ensures the time is spent wisely and leads to the best care.

The article I wrote for Canadian Health & Lifestyle Magazine’s Winter 2011/2012 issue, “Collaborative Health Care – 10 steps to a productive 7 minutes”, offers 10 steps on making the most of that time.

As a business leader for over 25 years and an outspoken health and patient advocate for the last 7, I’ve discovered that the important business discipline of being prepared and taking control also applies to health and life in general. When applied to your own health, it can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

Empowerment through knowledge provides the tools and confidence to take control of our health and become true partners with our physicians. The result? Less anxiety and fear. Clarity. Better decision-making and outcomes.

Take responsibility

A simple, yet often overlooked step is to apply the business principle of information gathering and preparation to your doctor’s visit. Research shows that physicians have about 7 minutes to spend with each of the many patients they see every day. Planning ahead ensures the time is spent wisely and leads to the best care. Sadly, almost five million Canadians are without a primary care physician, which means a walk-in clinic or hospital emergency room may be the place of your next health care interaction. You may be seeing someone who knows little, if anything, about you, or doesn’t have access to your complete medical record. Keeping written, chronological records is particularly critical for you or a loved one in this situation.

Participatory medicine

This has led to more trusting and mutually respectful environments where doctor and patient can work collaboratively as a team. Now more than ever, we are responsible for navigating our own health care path; we play a bigger role in determining the lifestyle choices to wellness and determining which therapies are best for us. Many of us stay on top of regular monitoring of our chronic conditions; and do more research than ever before into symptoms and/or conditions, thanks to the plethora of information available from reliable internet sites.

Preparation puts you squarely where you deserve to be: at the centre of your health care as a true partner with your physician.

Optimize your doctor’s visit in 7 minutes

Set goals. Create a check-list to stay focused on what you want to discuss and to make sure nothing is forgotten – 7 minutes isn’t a lot of time.

List medications. Include current prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies and vitamins or supplements you take, including dosages.

Bring recent test results + readings. Include any ultrasounds, MRIs, blood analysis and specialist reports you may have had done elsewhere. If you have a chronic condition, include your latest readings (i.e. blood sugar, blood pressure). It’s a good idea to begin requesting copies of medical reports so you possess a complete personal health record, which is particularly important in a medical emergency.

Medical history. Include previous hospitalizations, medical problems, any genetic factors or family history – especially regarding medical conditions or causes of death of first-line family members. This saves your doctor time researching your file and puts it top of mind.

Keep a log. Log symptoms of the current medical issue for your physician; if you have stomach pains, note what and where it hurts, when it hurts (constant or intermittent), how it hurts (sharp, throbbing, aching), and any factors that might be related, like foods eaten at the time of onset, etc. Prioritize medical concerns: talk about the most pressing first. Some physicians can only address one or two medical concerns per visit; schedule a follow-up appointment for items not covered.

Bring an advocate. A family member or friend at your appointment as an extra set of ears to take notes, ask questions and provide support is helpful, particularly for a complicated condition or if serious decisions about your care are being made. Patients tend to retain very little of the discussion about their health, so having a third party present is a great way to ensure you remember everything the doctor said.

Make a list of questions to ensure you don’t forget what you want answered. Prioritize. Don’t hesitate to stop your doctor if you require clarity on any technical jargon.

Ask about immunizations, boosters, screenings or other tests that may apply to your situation.

Share major life events (such as job loss, caring for a loved one, etc.) This helps your doctor assess your physical and mental health to develop a holistic view.

Research. There are now many reputable internet sites that offer information on health and disease. Educate yourself about your condition and treatment options available. Share these resources with your physician.