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Getting the most from your doctor

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BILLINGS, MT - Are you spending enough time with your doctor during medical appointments? Chances are you're not...and that's the physicians themselves talking.

A survey conducted of medicare health plans of doctors and nurses shows medical professionals are suffering from severe burnout.

"It was so frustrating...so frustrating...when I was trying to get diagnosed I saw over 30 doctors... And not just locally... I traveled," said Shelley Ruff. 

It's been more than a decade of misery after the bite of a mosquito transmitted a disease typically associated with a tick.

Ruff is living with Lyme disease, and it took ages to get a doctor to spend enough time with her to get the proper diagnosis.

"It's so frustrating to get a doctor to listen to you and they don't," said Ruff.

And she isn't alone. Joy Stevens is living with Lyme too; only in her case, it all began with a misdiagnosis. 

"On average you spend 8 to 12 minutes with your MD," said Stevens. "For me, when I was diagnosed, it wasn't even an MD...it was a nurse practitioner who looked at an MRI that they had run at their clinic and saw lesions on it and automatically declared me as having MS."

According to the Department of Public Health and Human Services in Montana, Lyme disease is not natively occurring, and can be one reason why many doctors may have dismissed the symptoms of both women.

So what can you do to give yourself a better chance of ensuring your doctor takes the time to hear your concerns? This question was given to the experts at Saint Vincent's Healthcare and Billings Clinic. 

In both cases, each physician recommends that patients stay focused and speak only to the symptoms for which the appointment was made.

"So to get your best care, you really want to try to stay with no more than two new problems," said Dr. Edward Malters. "However, if you have more, do not feel ashamed at all or embarrassed to ask for a follow-up appointment for other problems."

And Dr. Michael Temporal at Billings Clinic recommends keeping a medical log and bring that with you on your visit.

"What are your most recent vital signs, what are your medications," Dr. Temporal said. "Often it'll have patient education material. Write down stuff on there." 

And as for the two patients who were misdiagnosed...they recommend you stay vigilant.

"Be in control...be the boss...walk in with information that says, 'I have these symptoms and I need to be treated,'" said Ruff.

And if your doctor still doesn't have time to work through your issue, consider moving on.

"It can be very frustrating and time consuming and costly to continue to look for a physician that is going to listen and who is going to treat the cause and not the symptoms," Stevens said.

In Washington, there are nearly three doctors per 1,000 people. But nurses are in short supply with just under eight per 1,000 people.

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