Visiting the gynecologist is hardly the highlight of any woman's year. And it's even worse when the appointment involves a long wait, awkward conversation, and an ice-cold speculum. But developing a good relationship with your doctor is one of the best things you can do for your health, and for your peace of mind. "You let your gynecologist in on some of the most private parts of your life, both physically and emotionally," says Nancy J. Cossler, M.D., ob-gyn and assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. "She listens to your sexual-health issues, screens you for cervical and breast cancer, and supports you through nine months of pregnancy."
According to a recent study in the journal Medical Care, about 15 percent of women under age 45 see no other doctor, making their gynecologist also responsible for a host of other health matters, from stress management to cholesterol. So before you head to your next ob-gyn visit, consider these five suggestions.
1. Switch to a doctor you like
Our survey showed that 40 percent of women had signed up with a new ob-gyn because they were unhappy with their current care. Among the top complaints: judgmental or unfriendly doctors, hard-to-make appointments, and offices that always run behind schedule. "Your doctor should never make you feel guilty about your lifestyle," says Carol Livoti, M.D., a New York ob-gyn. "But it is her job to express concern about things that compromise your health, like smoking cigarettes or having unsafe sex." It's also important that you both share similar health-care philosophies. "Some doctors make you visit the office for everything—getting referrals, renewing prescriptions, receiving test results. And others may prefer to address less-pressing needs over the phone," says Livoti. "Some are very serious and never crack a smile; others may be so casual, they seem more like a friend than a physician. But you will have a better rapport—and a more comfortable visit—with a doctor whose values match yours."
Beyond the doctor-patient relationship, note the office environment. "You shouldn't tolerate excessive waiting, which could indicate a practice that's poorly managed," says Emily Godfrey, M.D., an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. If the total wait time from when you arrive to when you actually see your doctor consistently exceeds 45 minutes, consider shopping for a new physician. Ask friends for recommendations, but be sure your questions are specific: Can you discuss minor health concerns, like a yeast infection, with a nurse over the phone? In an emergency can you see the doctor that day? How easy is it to get an appointment?