Would you feign the flu, cancer, or even an STD? Some do it for a living. We’re serious—it’s a real job! Kramer even took a crack at it in an episode of Seinfeld. With a medical exam room as their stage, Standardized Patients (SPs) are actors who portray characters with a variety of illnesses—and a plethora of personalities—all in order to train med students and other healthcare professionals.
But they’re far from being just test dummies or even traditional actors. At the end of their portrayal, SPs are entrusted with evaluating the care they received, which makes them experts at going to the doctor—or at least pretending to.
These professional fakers know how you can perfect your own performance as patients and avoid appointment-destroying pitfalls, so we asked for their advice. See the symptoms of a bad doctor visit and remedy them with these real tips from pretend patients.
The symptom: “I feel rushed. My doctor’s speaking too fast, and he keeps looking at his watch.”
The cure: When you’re in an exam room with your doctor, you should be his top patient priority, says Jim Sandloop, a teaching associate and SP at Eastern Virginia Medical School. So speak up. Tell your doc that you understand he may have a lot of other patients. Then add, “But I have some real concerns, so I’d appreciate if you focus on why I’m here today,” Sandloop advises. Your doctor may not even know that he or she is coming across as distracted and distant. You can also try writing down all your medications, dosages, your last appointments, and even different symptoms or concerns you have before stepping into the exam room, says Valen Treadaway, a third-year SP at the University of California-Irvine Medical School. You’ll speed up the question-and-answer portion of the visit and leave more time for discussion.
The symptom: “I trust this doctor to make decisions for me.”
The cure: Just because he wears a white coat, it doesn’t mean your doctor has the authority to call all the shots. You and your doc make up a team, and should make decisions as one, says Sandloop. So turn a potential monologue into a dialogue. Ask your M.D. to present all options instead of just his opinion. Then, discuss your immediate thoughts about the information he provided, says Sandloop. You can even pretend you’re speaking to a counsellor, and don’t hesitate to share your emotional feelings about a diagnosis or plan of action. Then, you’ll both find the right answers together.
The symptom: “My doctor isn’t asking me a lot of questions.”
The cure: Go on the offensive and cough up some information, suggests Sandloop. Other than listing the issues you want addressed, offer info about your family history, your home environment, your diet, your exercise routine, and even some aspects of your life that you believe could be affecting your health. That doesn’t mean you should read about diseases online for hours and attempt to diagnose yourself. But ask questions like, “Is it possible that my stressful new job could be contributing to my symptoms?” Sandloop says. You’ll minimize health factors from slipping by your doc unnoticed.
Related: 11 Simple Answers to Weird Questions
The symptom: “I can’t tell if my doctor is actually understanding my issues and my concerns.”
The cure: Your practitioner should be a bit of a parrot. Ensure that you’re heard by listening for your physician to repeat the information you give him, says Sandloop. That’s your chance to correct and clarify if necessary, but also an opportunity for him to show you he understands. If your doctor doesn’t repeat your speech, ask him to give a conclusion at the end of the visit or even share the notes he took during your appointment. Then you’ll have no doubts about what really registered.
The symptom: “I’m not accomplishing what I want to accomplish at my appointments.”
The cure: Sadly, your doctor can’t rub a lamp or tap his stethoscope to magically heal your maladies. But you should leave each appointment with a feeling of achievement, even if that’s simply creating a course of action for the future. Go into your visit and state what you expect to know or have addressed by the end of your meeting, says Treadaway. You may have a few issues that cannot be treated all at once. So reveal the true purpose of your visit and emphasize the most important issues, says Sandloop.
The symptom: “I’ve tried everything, and I’m not getting anywhere with my doctor.”
The cure: It’s okay to dump your doc. If you’re not receiving quality care, swap in a new physician. Don’t waste your time with a medical professional that leaves you feeling judged, confused, or disrespected, says Treadaway. All these will make you less willing to be honest with your doctor and will ultimately lead to poorer care. There are a ton of smart and compassionate physicians. Give the, “It’s not you, it’s me” speech and move on.