How to Improve Doctor Patient Relationships

doctor patient relationship

How to Have a Successful Doctor-Patient Relationship with Your Primary Care Doctor

Many factors contribute to your good health — and one aspect that may not surprise you is having a good rapport with your doctor. Naturally, patients want a primary care physician who can skillfully diagnose and treat their illnesses. But the most successful doctor and patient relationships pair the doctor’s knowledge with collaborative communication, involving a two-way exchange of information. Patients also experience the greatest satisfaction when there is trust, mutual respect and a sense of caring and emotional support from their physician. 

The Importance of a Healthy Relationship between Doctor & Patient

Surprisingly, having a good doctor-patient relationship can lead to better outcomes — which is why you want to find a doctor you can easily communicate with and, then, stick with them. Like any relationship, it takes work. As a patient, you need to be prepared for your appointments, be honest with your physician even about things that embarrass you, follow your doctor's prescribed plan for you and insist that your doctor listen to you and explain things that you don’t understand. Following these steps will help you optimize your relationship.

Find a Good Primary Care Doctor and Stick with Them

You may be tempted to jump from one doctor to another at the first sign of discontent. But one groundbreaking study has found that sticking with one doctor is literally “a matter of life and death.” In the 2018 study, British researchers conducted a systematic review of 22 studies examining the link between continuity of care (seeing the same doctor regularly over time) and patient death rates. Data from the US and eight other countries were analyzed. Of these studies, 82 percent showed that a long-term relationship with a primary care doctor, family doctor or other physician was significantly associated with lower mortality rates. 

Other researchers have found similarly important results. A study conducted at the Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital found that “improving the doctor-physician relationship can produce health effects as beneficial as some common treatments, such as taking a daily aspirin to prevent heart attack.”

Numerous others who have delved into the nature of the doctor-patient relationship have found that a good connection can reinforce patients’ self-confidence, motivation and a positive view of their health status, which may influence health outcomes

That’s the good news. On the flip side, only 58 percent of patients in traditional primary care practices are satisfied with their doctor-patient relationship. What can be done? 

4 Tips On How to Improve the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Naturally, communication within any relationship, personal or professional is a two-way street. Neither you nor your doctor can be expected to carry the full load to make the partnership to work. But there are things you can do to help turn things around. One good place to start is considering how you approach doctor’s visits:

  1. Be Prepared
  2. Be Honest
  3. Be Part of the Plan
  4. Be Tactful

Be Prepared

If you’re seeing your doctor about a new issue, jot notes about your symptoms, when they started and anything you may have done to try to improve them, such as changes in your diet. It’s easy to forget key pieces of information once you’re in the examination room.

For annual physical exams, bring a list of any questions and prioritize them, with the most important at the top. Let your physician know about any changes or new conditions of your family members. Bring a list of medications, including herbs, vitamins and other dietary supplements.

If you’ve consulted with another doctor since your last appointment, let your doctor know. Bring any test results or imaging reports. Even though many doctors are connected especially within medical systems, it’s better to assume that your doctor hasn’t received information from your specialists.

Be Honest

In order to give you the best treatment, your doctor needs accurate information about your health. If you sometimes skip a medication, let him know. If you’re drinking more wine than usual, share that information. It’s also best to open up about things you may find embarrassing. Remember that doctors hear everything in their practices. If you’re feeling depressed or lonely, sharing it can be a first step toward treatment that can make you feel better. Primary care physicians and family doctors are generally trained to treat the entire patient – not just your physical health but your mental and emotional health issues as well. 

Be Part of the Plan

It’s important to fully understand any next steps your doctor prescribes, such as caring for yourself at home or seeing a specialist. If it’s something you’re reluctant to do or don’t think you can, get over any nervousness or fears of disapproval and let your doctor know. Your physician will appreciate your truthfulness. Tell him what concerns you, and together you can work out a different strategy. 

But even if you don’t stick to the revised plan, keep follow-up appointments. Doctors don’t expect patients to be perfect. Skipping appointments is worse than owning up to the fact that you didn’t finish a course of antibiotics or make an appointment to be evaluated by a physical therapist. 

Be Tactful 

Mutual respect is another key component of any relationship. If you want this one to flourish, state what’s on your mind in a way that encourages, rather than shuts down, communication. If, for example, you don’t understand why you need a new medication and your primary care physician seems rushed, let him know that his speed in conducting the exam makes you feel reluctant to ask questions. If your physician is brusque in the way he speaks to you, find a way to let him know you feel uncomfortable or even intimidated. 

Being at ease with your doctor cannot be overestimated. A bond built on trust and mutual respect, one in which you can confide in your doctor and believe that he’s always on your side, is just as important as the medical skills and knowledge that he brings to your care. 

Are You Still Having Issues Establishing the Relationship?

If you’ve tried all this and you’re still struggling to communicate with your primary care doctor, it may be time to change. Sometimes the problem is time – in large primary care practices, physicians see dozens of patients a day and have only a short period with each patient.

MDVIP-affiliated physicians take a different approach. They see fewer patients so they have time to develop meaningful, beneficial relationships with their patients. In fact, 97 percent of patients in MDVIP-affiliated primary care practices were satisfied with their doctor-patient relationship. If you’re struggling to make a connection with your primary care doctor, consider joining an MDVIP-affiliated practice. 


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