Maximize Your Doctor Appointment in Just 15 Minutes: 9 Proven Strategies

The role of a patient in healthcare is vital, yet often underappreciated. We usually lean heavily on our doctor's expertise, leaving ourselves in a more passive role. But the reality of modern healthcare, with its limited time for patient visits, demands a more proactive approach from us. Maximizing your doctor appointment in today's environment will serve you and your doctor well.

In this three-part series on the subject of Partnering with your Doctor, my sister Dr. Jill Marcus (I’m calling her Dr. J.), a Family Medicine Practitioner and Assistant Professor at Rush University Medical Group in Chicago, Illinois, has been super helpful in providing content here, and I thank her immensely for helping bring this to light from a physician’s perspective.

You're in the Driver's Seat for Your Doctor Appointment (Whether You Like it or Not)

Patient-centered care: Enhancing the role of patient in healthcare during doctor appointment

It can feel easier to take a more passive role or to solely rely on your physician’s advice. But the truth is, physicians’ schedules are very regimented, with each doctor appointment scheduled 15-20 minutes apart (some lucky enough to have 30-40 minutes for an annual wellness exam), leaving doctors only 10-15 minutes with each patient to discuss both chronic and new medical problems. So, providers are not getting close to a full picture of this unique being (that’d be you).

According to an analysis on Time Allocation in Primary Care Office Visits, during a doctor visit, not much time was spent on specific topics.

  • On average, visits lasted about 15.7 minutes and covered six different topics.
  • The longest topic got about 5 minutes of discussion, while the other topics got about 1.1 minutes each.
  • Factors like the patient's condition and the doctor's schedule affected how much time they spent on each topic.
  • Even though visits could cover different things, the overall length of the visit didn't change much.

So, if you're only getting an average of 15 minutes with the doctor during your visit, and there are usually six topics being discussed, it's behooves you to go in with a plan or key talking points. These can help you get clarity about the direction you want to take within the limited time available.

At the very least, a plan might keep you from feeling rushed because you’ll already have those key talking points ready to be addressed.

Ready, Set, Research

Would you go to a car dealer and buy a shiny new ride without any information beforehand? I bet you would have done a lot of research, such as whether you want leather or cloth seats, the color, the extras, and, of course, you’ve probably done some work to figure out a fair price. In fact, you’ve likely spent hours doing research on an inanimate object. The same should apply when preparing for a doctor appointment.

A recent survey found that two-thirds of patients walk out of the doctor’s office realizing they’ve forgotten to ask questions they intended to ask, and another 19 percent have new questions after the visit.

And while doctors try not to make assumptions or evaluations before they see you, they only get a quick look at your chart before entering the room and have a very short amount of time to see what’s going on. And they are only human.

Informed decisions: Patient research strategies for a productive doctor appointment

Because they only have so much time to spend with you, sometimes they use that truncated information to inform their decisions before you’ve even had a chance to tell them everything. Dr. J. says it’s called anchoring on a diagnosis.

Getting specific in your own mind about what your symptoms are, what you’ve researched, and what you might be seeking from them can help the doctor get out of assumption mode and get to the heart of the matter in your allotted time.

You want to feel empowered and confident being part of the decision-making process. So what can you do before and during an interaction with your physician/care team?

Use the Force (a.k.a. the Internet)

Doctors like Dr. J encourage patient research, but warn against misinformation.

“I love when patients do their own research."

“Personally, I love when people have done their own research because they often have a lot of questions, and I can answer those questions, dispel myths, provide reassurance, or help decipher data. I have actually had patients diagnose themselves with some obscure or rare disorder through their own research, and I appreciate not having to spin wheels and waste time and money chasing other causes once we confirm their suspicions.”

If you have received a diagnosis, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s or Colitis, kidney disease, etc., or you’re experiencing symptoms you want to discuss with your doctor, put your internet to use and do some research ahead of the visit to learn more and to assess possible avenues you’re willing to explore with them.

Before starting with the almighty Google, which can be a double-edged sword, start with legitimate, well-respected websites that focus specifically on healthcare, such as:

and other prominent institutions and journals, not just any article you see on the subject.

Take some time to verify the information by conducting research from different sources. Peruse reputable resources like the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, etc.

Google: Friend or Woe?

You know one of the first things you’re gonna do is head straight for Google. Now that Google has become a verb, it’s the first place most people go to find answers and it can be a valuable tool if used wisely. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages to Google, but if you know where to start it can be a great asset.

When using Google, let the drop-down box be a guide. For example, when I start typing “Type 2 diabetes” into Google, in the drop-down box I get suggestions like “Type 2 diabetes symptoms,” “Type 2 diabetes medications,” and “Type 2 diabetes mellitus.”

Use the “People Also Ask” section for more guidance.

In the above scenario, if I click on “Type 2 diabetes,” in the “People Also Ask” section, I can see new terms, such as, “How do you deal with type 2 diabetes?” What is the difference between diabetes 1 and 2?” and “What are the 4 stages of type 2 diabetes?”

You’ll also note that the first three entries after clicking on “type 2 diabetes” come from the Mayo Clinic, the American Diabetes Association, and the CDC – all very reputable sources to begin researching your diagnosis.

Remember that when you do click on a Google source, make it a trustworthy one first and foremost.

On a “Need to Know” Basis

It’s a scorching 90 degrees out and your air conditioner is on the fritz. Do you want to know the intricate details about how your HVAC unit works? Or do you need just enough knowledge to make an informed decision about how to get it repaired ASAP?

Since you’ll only have a short time with your doctor, decide in advance how much you need to understand about a subject before you jump into a topic with them.

For example, do you want to understand how cholesterol or lipoproteins work in the body? Or do you just need to have a plan to lower your LDLs?

Through your research, decide how in-depth you want to go with your doctor versus what you “need” to know in order to develop a plan together to move forward. And don’t be afraid to schedule a follow-up appointment with your doctor to get any remaining questions answered.

Get By with a Little Help from Your Friends – And Your Online Community

Connect with people who have experienced the same condition you’re dealing with. This can happen through online communities like Facebook, Instagram, or other social media platforms. You can also reach out to family, friends, or friends of friends who may have relevant experiences. Ask questions that can help you find a focus to discuss with your doctor.

Again, do some research after you talk with these people and before you see your doctor. You don’t want to waste your limited amount of time telling your doctor what five different people have tried, only to find out later that those methods were debunked over and over. (If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.)

If you’re planning to talk to your doctor about a specific treatment, consider finding a support group (like on Facebook, Instagram, or Reddit, etc., or even something local like and asking other people with the same diagnosis questions about their treatment plans and/or where they got their information. Again, be discriminating about where you get yours. Always verify by asking more people or doing more research.

Break it Down Now… Take a Small List of Doctor Visit Questions/Specific Concerns

Maximizing your doctor appointment: prepare doctor visit questions to make the most of your appointment

This one’s a biggie. To take advantage of your limited time together, whittle down your biggest concerns to 1 – 3 of the ones you most want to address at your doctor appointment.

Ask yourself, “What is the biggest outcome(s)/problem(s) I want to address or solve right now?”

When I asked Dr. J about narrowing your questions down into 1 – 3 concerns, she said, “I love this idea because it helps focus the visit. What I wish patients understood was that there are two types of visits with their doctor: a ‘wellness visit’ and a ‘problem visit’.

“The ‘wellness visit’ is intended to be just that, focusing on the things to keep you well and living as long and healthy a life as possible, saving new medical concerns for a problem-focused visit.

“The ‘problem visit’ is typically around 15 minutes in length (assuming the patient arrives around 5-10 minutes before their scheduled time as checking in, reviewing medications and taking vitals can eat into the appointment time), so coming in with a prioritized list of any health concerns can help direct the visit efficiently.”

Dr. J recommends prioritizing the list with your physician at the beginning of the appointment. Be prepared to discuss the top two or three things more thoroughly and schedule a follow-up appointment for the rest. This way, you can more effectively explore the most pressing items.

Prioritizing the List

When narrowing down your concerns, instead of going in with broad questions like,
“Why can’t I sleep,”

do your research ahead of time so you can ask more proactive questions like,
“I’ve done some research and found out that a lack of certain key nutrients such as calcium and magnesium could be responsible for poor sleep. Would it be a good idea to do some bloodwork to see if I have any deficiencies that might be causing poor sleep?"

The idea is to get as succinct as possible about the problem you’re looking to solve.

Personal example: I told my doctor during one checkup that I had been feeling achy at night for a few weeks and I knew this was out of the ordinary for me. After doing some research prior to the appointment, I discovered that testing C-reactive protein can provide information about whether there’s inflammation going on in the body. So, I asked my physician if testing that marker made sense and he said it did and ordered that as part of my bloodwork.

Dr. J emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between "wellness visits" and "problem visits." Knowing the difference and prioritizing your concerns will help make the most of your limited appointment time.

Tip: Keep an open mind about a course of action, and ask your doctor to do the same if necessary! But you know your body better than any doctor does, so don’t be afraid to speak up about what you’re experiencing. And if a doctor dismisses your concerns, it might be time to find a new doctor.

Start improving your Doctor Visit today

Click to download your Checklist for a Collaborative Doctor’s Visit.

Summary: Effective Appointment with Doctor

Ensure that your needs and concerns are addressed, so you can make informed decisions for better health outcomes. Maximizing your doctor appointment in just 15 minutes can seem like a daunting task, but with preparation and determination, it's entirely achievable.

Follow these nine proven strategies to take control of your healthcare experience

  1. Go in with a Plan or Key Talking Points

    Be prepared with specific topics or questions you want to discuss with your doctor to gain clarity within your appointment time.

  2. Research Before the Visit

    Gather information about your condition or symptoms before seeing your doctor, so you're prepared to discuss and ask informed questions.

  3. Use Reputable Sources for Research

    Look for information on well-respected sites like The Cleveland Clinic, Mayo Clinic, Harvard Health, or Johns Hopkins University.

  4. Use Google Wisely

    Navigate information online by sticking to credible sources and avoiding misinformation.

  5. Determine Your Information Needs

    Know what you want to achieve from the visit and what you want to get out of your healthcare, and steer the conversation accordingly.

  6. Connect with Others with the Same Condition

    Join support groups or follow social media accounts to gain insights from others with your specific diagnosis.

  7. Take Specific Questions or Concerns to Your Doctor

    Have a concise list of targeted questions or concerns to make the most out of your appointment.

  8. Consider Finding a New Doctor if Needed

    Don’t settle for a healthcare provider who dismisses your concerns or fails to consider your opinions.

  9. Be an Active Participant in Your Healthcare

    Engage in research, planning, and effective communication to have a more personalized and satisfying healthcare experience.

Now that you have some examples of what being involved in your health care could look like,, you have some tools to help you become more hands-on at your doctor appointment. With effective ways to research topics and options, you can begin to feel more empowered and invested in your future wellness. You can also use these invaluable tools to help a loved one in a similar situation if they need to focus more on getting better.

So, whether it's chronic condition management, a new diagnosis, or simply a wellness checkup, take the wheel of your healthcare journey and drive towards a healthier you during your doctor appointment.

In the last part of this three-part series on how to engage in a collaborative relationship with your doctor, we’ll look at the wellness visit and how you can use that time to your advantage so you have a better chance of reaching your health goals.

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Perfection rejectionist Lisa Kiersky Schreiber is a nutrition and lifestyle coach who helps clients take a holistic and realistic approach to wellness. Lisa got off the diet carousel and can help you do the same.

Find other articles written by Lisa on her coach profile. Her philosophy will help you simplify your nutrition lifestyle so you can learn to trust yourself implicitly around food.