What makes you a good patient?

EDITOR'S NOTE: This week's Health & Wellness column is being provided by guest columnist Dr. M. Shane Frazier. 

In the Adam Sandler classic, "Happy Gilmore," a VW bug hits the main character, Happy, during a golf tournament. Happy is evaluated by a doctor who advises him to rest and keep off his feet for a few days. When Happy refuses, the doctor responds, “Fine! Do whatever you like! What would I know? I’m only a doctor.”

Many people have asked me what makes a good doctor-patient relationship. Happy and his doctor may need to review their relationship, but overall, my patients are fantastic -- and I use them as a model for what other patients should be like.

As I have thought back about my patient's qualities and what makes them so great, I’ve realized that there are certain qualities that they all tend to have. I compiled them into a list of the qualities of a great patient from the perspective of a physician, or the “Nine Ps of Perfect Patients.”

1. Punctuality

In order to keep a doctor’s office running smoothly, everybody has an important job to do — including the patient. The most common reason I get behind while seeing patients is because patients arrive late to their appointments, which impacts the patients after them.

If you can, arrive early to your appointment. This will give you time to fill out paperwork, update your information, and collect your thoughts before being seen. If you must cancel your appointment, give your doctor advance notice (preferably 24 hours) so the office can continue serving patients in a timely manner.

2. Planning

To ensure your doctor’s visit is helpful and productive, planning is everything.

Sometimes young children are distracting, and the patient and I are not able to concentrate on the health situation as much as we would like. If you are able to arrange childcare, that is ideal.

Also, if you have concerns about a language barrier, it is very helpful to bring someone to assist in translation. Bringing along a trusted friend who can be sure you understand everything that is being discussed by your doctor is a great idea. That way, you can be sure this visit will be money well-spent.

3. Preparation

Take a tip from the Boy Scouts and “be prepared.” Make sure you bring all the necessary items to your appointment: insurance card, identification, a list of medicines you currently take, a list of medical problems or symptoms, and information on past surgeries or overall history. Bringing these items will make the whole process efficient and allow us to progress further during the appointment.

4. Politeness

As we all know, the secret to getting terrific customer service is to be polite. I really enjoy the appointments when my patients are kind, have a positive attitude, and handle the appointment professionally. It also allows me to do my job better when you give the appointment your full attention and don’t allow cell phones and other electronic devices to intrude into the conversation.

5. Plainness

I became a physician to serve my patients, and I thoroughly enjoy it. In order to give the best care, honest and complete behavior and background information is required. This is the only way I can provide the right kind of help necessary for treatment.

If you use illegal drugs or have had problems with prescription drugs in the past, tell me. If you have been encouraged to eat healthier yet your breakfast often consists of something with “doodles” in its name and extra ice in a 44-ounce cup, admit it. If you didn’t take the medicine I asked you to take on your prior visit, tell me. If what I’m asking you to do just won’t happen, let’s discuss it and consider another solution. No judgments here. It is just much easier for me to treat those patients who are honest and upfront with me.

6. Patience

You owe it to yourself to allow sufficient time to complete your doctor’s visit. We owe it to our patients to be sure we are providing the best care possible. In order to do that, we need to be thorough, and that process often takes time. It takes time to register or update your insurance and medical information. It takes time for an examination room to open up. It takes time to room you, take your vitals and hear first-hand what prompted you to come to the doctor today. Once this essential information has been gathered, it is instrumental in helping your doctor make informed decisions that are beneficial to your current needs.

I know it can be frustrating to sit in a waiting room when you have other important places to be, but good health is worth the wait.

7. Precision

In medical school, I was taught to be my own first patient. That meant taking care of myself before taking care of my patients. I need to eat healthy, get sufficient sleep, get immunized, exercise, see a doctor yearly and avoid stress as much as anyone.

The best advocate for your health and well-being is you. You can be your own patient by understanding your medical history, having a basic knowledge of the ailments from which you suffer, and knowing what medicines you are taking, and why. Failing to relay that information prevents your doctor from providing the optimal medical care. For example, ideally you should be able to explain the purpose for each medication you are taking and why it was prescribed. This knowledge opens up an opportunity to discuss with your doctor alternative options or possibility discontinuing some medications with specialized care.

8. Prudence

My favorite patients are those who have researched their condition or symptoms prior to the visit. They have ideas of what condition might be ailing them and are prepared to discuss these conditions with me. They come with questions. With the prudent patient, I can have a more educated, in-depth discussion about the disease process and treatment options, many of which the patient has already read about.

9. Participation

An important factor in any relationship is listening. As you are engaged in a patient-doctor relationship, the need for full participation and clear listening is an important component in your treatment plan.

Your doctor should be listening closely to the information you are providing about your needs or medical concerns. In turn, the success of your care depends on your ability to listen to your doctor and adhere to his advice. Keep in mind, we can only advise. We cannot do the work for you. Your role in treatment becomes essential. This is your body. This is your quality of life.

I feel blessed to have great patients as well as the knowledge and training to care for them. I am grateful they confide in me to assist them in this endeavor. I am especially happy when my patients follow most, if not all, of my Nine Ps. It makes taking care of their needs easier and more pleasant.

Dr. M. Shane Frazier, DO, is an orthopedic hand, wrist and elbow surgeon at Central Utah Clinic where he sees patients in Provo and Saratoga Springs.