Etiquette: At the Doctor’s Office

I really hate going to the doctor. The appointment is never on time, there are usually forms to fill out, chances are good I’m going to get poked with needles, and the waiting room is full of sick people. It’s like a germ factory. Plus, I’m going to have to talk about gross, very personal things and not start giggling.

For me, the experience is often high-stress, and I’m very nervous. As such, I have compiled a few simple rules, if you, like me, don’t like the doctor.

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  1. Be on time. I know. The doctor won’t be. She or he may be running at least fifteen minutes late, unless you have the very first appointment of the morning. Bring a book so that you don’t have to talk to the other sick people and get their germs. If you have changed insurance or addresses, arrive ten minutes early. If you’re at a new doctor, get there fifteen minutes early. The paperwork can take a while sometimes.
  2. Be nice to the receptionist. I know I’ve said this before, but always be extra nice to the receptionist. This person is the gatekeeper to your doctor. If you need a miracle, this is the person who can make it happen. But they’re not going to do it for someone they don’t really like.
  3. Be honest with the doctor. Are you exercising? How much are you drinking? Are you on any other medications? Are you flossing daily? Don’t. Lie. Everything you tell your doctor is confidential. It’s not like he or she is going to go put it on Facebook. She is also responsible for your health. Chances are good the doc is asking these questions for a reason. Patients who lie are very frustrating, because doctors can’t be as confident in their prescribed treatment.
  4. Be familiar with the medical terms. There are parts of our bodies we’re not comfortable discussing. There are bodily functions that we would like to pretend don’t exist. Learn the medical terms for these things and practice using them before you go to the doctor. This does two things, it makes it easier to talk about the “gross” things our bodies do, and shows that you are a mature responsible patient who is concerned primarily with health.
  5. Slow down the Google-Fu. Congratulations! You know how to use a search engine! You are still not a doctor. Google your symptoms in order to learn what kinds of questions to ask your doctor. Do not Google your symptoms to get a diagnosis which you can present to the doctor for confirmation.
  6. Ask questions. Ask informed, researched questions about your symptoms. Also ask any questions you have about diagnosis or treatment. Make sure you understand it so that you can follow it.
  7. Try to put away your cell phone. I know that we need cell phones if a call comes through, and it’s really handy for staying occupied in the waiting room. Turn off the sound in the waiting room and try to put it away entirely once you’re called back to see the doctor unless you need it. This is not just for the doctor or fellow patients. The time in which you are actually being seen is precious. Texting friends can wait until you leave.


So there you are! A guide to get through you through the perils of the doctor’s office. And if you still get nervous or confused, just remember my personal mantra: What Would Hillary Clinton Do? (Answer: Be a confident badass. Always.)

Editor’s note: This post has been edited to reflect that all doctors aren’t men. 


By amandamarieg

Amandamarieg is a lawyer who does not work as a lawyer. She once wrote up a plan to take over the world and turned it in as a paper for a college course. She only received an A-, because she forgot that she would need tech geeks to pull off her scheme.

12 replies on “Etiquette: At the Doctor’s Office”

As a receptionist in the doctor’s office, I completely agree with #2! If you are late/have an insurance problem/need to be squeezed into an already full schedule and are nice about it, I will move heaven and earth to figure things out for you. If you are rude, there is no way in hell I (or any of my co-workers) will take time away from the 60 other things we have to do by the end of the day to fix your problem.

Also, try to be informed about your health insurance. I know it’s confusing and awful, but it’s not the receptionist’s fault that you signed up for the cheapest plan possible and didn’t read the fine print to understand all the hoops you now have to jump through to see a specialist…

So glad I’ve never lived anywhere where I needed health insurance to be seen. A friend had an accident in the US recently and his girlfriend spent most of her time on the phone with his insurance company negotiating the timing of his surgery and which hospital he should be in.

Cell phones are getting to be way overused, apparently. I got a call from a friend last time I was at the doctor (I put the volume on low but not silent in case my daughter called. I needed to hear her special ringtone in case of an emergency.) I ignored it. The doctor asked if I needed to answer it and then she was quite surprised when I said “No, I’m getting examined because I’m sick. I’ll call whoever it is back later.”

I thought it was common sense not to blab on the phone in the exam room, but I think I’m wrong.

Great advice! I really agree about the phone thing.

What about medication questions? I do a lot of research on medications for my conditions, but I’m always afraid to talk about my concerns or interests in particular meds because I don’t want to get marked for drug-seeking behavior.

Example: I just started a new migraine med that also happens to be a mood stabilizer. At higher doses, it can give you that woozy Xanax feeling. It isn’t really working for my migraines yet, and I looked up the med and found out I’m only on a quarter of the recommended dose. I want to ask my doc to up the dose, but I’m afraid he might think I’m looking for a party (in reality it just knocks me out). Please note that while I have a professional presentation, I still give off a bit of an “alternative” vibe. Any suggestions?

Be very straightforward. “This dosage is not working for my migraines. What can we do about that?” Then see what he says. If he starts to hedge, ask him what he thinks. Then continue being honest and forthright. If he refuses to up our dosage or change your meds because he thinks you’re just looking for a high, you need a new doctor, because this one is not taking your needs seriously. Only you are in your body.

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