Medicine is not what it used to be. Doctors are more pressured that ever before and time for patients is increasingly limited. Although lack of time is a major complaint among people I see who need doctors, another common concern is the disquieting absence of bedside manner among some physicians.

Although there are physicians who are great at offering emotional support to patients and loved ones, I always tell patients and that in order to manage illness successfully, they must adapt to the culture of medicine. By “culture” I mean the attitudes of medical professionals and the relative fast paced and hurried nature of visits to the doctor, which can seem manic to those not familiar with the world of medicine.

I first noticed this high energy when I started working in hospitals and outpatient clinics. Not only was it shocking that everyone around me literally moved so much faster than I did, but it was equally unsettling that when talking with a physician, I found that I had about 20 seconds to say what was on my mind before being interrupted! Optimistically, however, you may have up to 30-90 seconds to tell your story depending on the setting. Either way, be prepared to talk fast!

Though patience seems to be in short supply in encounters with physicians, there is an abundance of irritability. Most doctors approach conversations by wanting people to get to the point, and fast. I no longer take these kinds of interactions personally, and I guess as evidence of how I have acculturated to medicine, I now talk fast when I am speaking with doctors, and when I am interrupted, I usually feel comfortable interrupting them when I want to get a point across!

However, I am not as often in the position of being a patient or a loved one who needs a doctor to provide guidance and treatment. And in these roles, people have to learn how to get what they need without compromising the relationships they have with doctors. So what can you do if yourself or someone you love is ill?

– Talk fast. I was not kidding about how important this is.
– Prepare your questions ahead of time. Ask if you can fax or e-mail them to your physician before the appointment.
– If you can’t do the above, and even if you can, have your questions written down ahead of time. Present your questions as soon as your physician walks through the door. Say, “This is what we need to discuss before I leave.”
– If you need to be in touch with your doctor between appointments, and have not received a call back, keep calling; doctors are often not offended by multiple calls.
– Has your physician been helpful? Like his or her office staff? Reinforce positive behavior! Refer friends to the practice. To be even more in sync with the culture of medical professionals, if you can afford it, bring food to the office. A box of candy works well, as does a healthier option of fruit.

Remember, doctors are people with very difficult jobs. Most doctors want to take good care of their patients. However, they are often overwhelmed. You can make their job easier by keeping in mind that they have limited time and if they seem distracted it is likely not about you.

Good luck! Dealing with doctors is a skill and often requires a lot of practice.