According to recent statistics, primary care physicians spend an average of 13-16 minutes with each patient. While this seems like a significant amount of time, when you need to discuss troubling symptoms, or broach a difficult subject such as eating disorders, it is far from adequate. Knowing how to talk to your doctor about ED, and how to prepare for your office visit, can increase the chances for a successful interaction.
Make a list of concerns, symptoms, thoughts, and especially questions to take with you on your office visits. This list should be a running one for a week or more. Then, on the day before your visit, firm your list up, and print it out on a computer, if possible. This sounds both time consuming and possibly redundant, but if you are already unsure how to talk to your doctor about ED, you want to make sure that you can read your notes when you get there. It is very common for a patient’s mind to go blank when confronted with the White Coat, no matter how caring your doc may be. Many people have had the experience of getting back home and realizing that they forget to ask about refills, symptoms, or even overwhelming fears.
Be willing to open up. This means personal details. Remember that your physician is working on both what he/she sees (objective information), and what you tell him/her (subjective information). This provides your doctor with the best clinical picture upon which to act. Great doctors have a little bit of extra intuition that helps them along, but don’t rely on this. Once an eating disorder diagnosis has been made, continue to talk to your doctor, and the allied medical staff, about ways that they can help. Being weighed in private may be important to you, or requesting an appointment that gives your more time to consult with your physician.
Remember, too, that primary medical doctors may not be well-versed in diagnosing an eating disorder, recognizing the subtle symptoms, or even responding appropriately to the patient’s fears. Eating disorders are not yet a routine screening item covered in most exams, the way that immunizations, smoking, and substance abuse have been integrated. In 2012 the American Medical Association created a special continuing education online course to help physicians screen for and manage eating disorders in a primary practice office. Referral to eating disorder specialists is an important part of this management. Understanding how to talk to your doctor about ED is also a way to encourage a physician to initiate these conversations with other patients, so everyone wins.