Going to the doctor’s office is rarely an enjoyable experience. Whether you have a specific medical issue or simply are there for your annual physical, you would probably prefer to be spending your time somewhere other than a waiting area or exam room.
But the vibes get significantly worse when manners go out the window. Rude behavior at the doctor’s office is not only unpleasant, it can also be a health and safety risk.
To help make doctor visits as safe and painless as possible, HuffPost asked etiquette experts to share the faux pas they’ve observed ― and their advice for avoiding these missteps.
“While it is easy to eavesdrop in a waiting room, everyone should have selective listening,” said Jodi R.R. Smith, the president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting. “Give the illusion of privacy, even if none exists.”
If you have to wait in line to speak to someone at the desk, try to keep a reasonable distance.
“This ensures the person in front of you that you are unable to see their personal information that is provided,” said Jackie Vernon-Thompson, the founder of From the Inside-Out School of Etiquette.
Don’t probe into the reason for your fellow patient’s visit during small talk either.
“You may strike up a conversation with others, but again, maintain that illusion of privacy,” Smith advised. “Chat about the weather or a television show. Do not ask why they are seeking medical help. If, and only if, they volunteer that information, then you may ask follow-up questions.”
Making Noise In The Waiting Area
Refrain from loudly talking about yourself to strangers. People who feel unwell might not want to hear your vivid descriptions of your problems, so keep your conversations with others to a low volume so as not to be disruptive.
“Don’t ramble on and on about your medical issues to another patient,” Vernon-Thompson said. “Sit quietly and focus on you until your name is called.”
The same goes for issues directed at staff members.
“Keep your voice low,” said Diane Gottsman, the author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas. “If you have a complaint, take it up to the counter rather than complaining to fellow patients.”
Additionally, make use of your headphones if you want to listen to music or watch videos while you wait.
Talking On Your Phone
The noise rule applies to phone conversations as well.
“Phones should be silent,” said Nick Leighton, an etiquette expert and host of the “Were You Raised by Wolves?” podcast. “If you have to take a call, it’s considerate to step outside the waiting room.”
Consider going into airplane mode before you enter the medical facility. At the very least, turn the sound off.
“Perhaps others don’t enjoy your ringtone as much as you,” said Tami Claytor, the etiquette coach behind Always Appropriate Image and Etiquette Consulting. “Also, by turning off or silencing your phone, it eliminates the possibility of a call or text interrupting your appointment with the doctor.”
Not Wearing A Mask
“In this day and age, if you have any sort of sneezing or coughing illness, you should be masked in any medical facility,” Smith said. “This is for your protection and to help protect anyone who may be medically vulnerable.”
If your medical appointment is not time-sensitive and is unrelated to your illness, then reschedule for when you’re not sick. Otherwise, put on a mask before you check in. Some offices require it for all patients.
“Help minimize the spread of germs by wearing a mask, coughing and sneezing into your elbow or stepping outside the waiting area, properly disposing of used tissues by throwing them in the garbage and washing your hands frequently,” Claytor said. “By taking these steps, you are practicing the fundamental principle of etiquette, which is thinking of others before you think of yourself.”
Eating A Meal While You Wait
“Don’t eat in the waiting area,” Claytor said. “The waiting area is not a fast-food restaurant. It is inappropriate to consume a meal while you wait.”
She noted that a small bite-sized snack and beverage might be OK so long as it doesn’t have a pungent odor and you consume it discreetly. Be sure to properly dispose of what’s left as well.
“Take your trash with you,” Leighton said. “Don’t leave your empty coffee cup laying around the waiting room.”
Showing Up Late ― Or Not At All
“Arrive on time,” Claytor urged. “Being punctual is a nice courtesy to other patients, the staff and the doctors.”
In fact, you should strive to arrive ahead of your scheduled appointment time.
“Always arrive a few minutes early to fill out or update your patient profile,” Gottsman said, noting that medical visits often come with many forms.
Your punctuality helps the doctor remain on schedule and reduce delays for other patients. And if you can’t make it that day, don’t forget to cancel or reschedule.
“Don’t be a no-show,” Claytor said. “Do notify the office if you can’t keep your appointment. Perhaps there is a wait list and someone else could use your time slot.”
Being Unkind To The Staff
“You’ll catch more bees with honey than vinegar, so a polite approach with the staff is always the way to go,” Leighton said.
Despite our best efforts, delays happen, so try to pack your patience and refrain from taking out your frustration on the people working the desk.
“Do not shout at the staff or argue with them,” Vernon-Thompson said. “Don’t make a scene! If you have a complaint, there are protocols in place for that. In most cases, the issue you have is out of their control or not their fault.”
Being friendly and courteous goes a long way in a medical setting.
“After all, people typically visit the doctor when they are ill or concerned about their health,” Vernon-Thompson said. “Your positive and respectful attitude can make the environment more conducive to healing.”
“Respect personal space,” Claytor said. “For sanitary reasons and to avoid the spread of germs, it is important to follow social-distancing guidelines.”
If there are plenty of empty chairs available, don’t choose one right next to someone. If it’s crowded, don’t take up more than one seat.
“Be thoughtful and don’t commandeer more than one waiting room chair,” Claytor said. “If you have done so and someone else needs the seat, remove your belongings and offer the now vacant chair to that person.”
She warned against putting your feet up on the seats.
“Your footwear is dirty and doesn’t belong on the waiting room seats,” Claytor said. “It’s impossible to know what nasty substances your shoes have picked up. No one wants the dirt from the streets transferred to their clothing.”
It’s OK to bring a companion or advocate to your appointment, but avoid arriving with a full-on entourage if possible.
“Having too many people accompany a patient to an office visit is disruptive to the staff and other people with poor health,” Claytor added.
Avoid going over your allotted appointment time by preparing in advance. Show up with your insurance card and any necessary forms ready to go.
“A day or two before your appointment, take the time to write down all of your possible questions,” Smith recommended. “It can be overwhelming and occasionally rushed during the appointment. Having your questions written in advance allows you to cover as much as possible during the time allotted.”
Arrive with a list of all the medications and supplements you take as well.
“Assist the doctors in maximizing your visit by doing a little advanced preparation,” Claytor said. “Having a list of medications and supplements means they are spending less time updating your medical chart and more time diagnosing the problem that required an office visit.”
“Be honest with your provider,” Gottsman said. “If you’re seeing another medical professional, let them know so they have all of the details.”
Withholding relevant information wastes the provider’s time as well as your own. And try to be courteous but honest if you aren’t satisfied with what you’re getting.
“Remember, medical staff are trained professionals, but they are not infallible,” Smith said. “If you would like to see a different provider or get a second option, politely ask.”