Your relationship with your doctor is like other business and personal relationships in your life. A good relationship doesn’t just happen, rather it requires deliberate attention and effort. What you take out of the relationship depends on what you put into it.
A good working relationship with your doctor requires engagement from both sides. Being a good patient means being a good communicator, drawing on your skills of empathy and active listening. Patients should feel comfortable asking probing questions: “What thought process leads you to that diagnosis?” “What is the short-term and the long-term impact of what you are telling me?” Patients who are active participants in their care feel empowered about their health and more satisfied with their doctor.
Your relationship with your doctor is most productive when you are open minded and fully honest. You may conduct research – on medical websites and patient forums – before your appointment and want to share what you’ve learned. Most physicians will appreciate your initiative. New medical research and treatments come to light at a rapid pace. It’s impossible for a physician to stay current on all recent findings.
Be cautious about online medical information
However, it’s also important to consider the source of your information, and recognize that a Google search can yield misleading or outdated information, from unreliable sources. Don’t be reluctant to share your concerns and research with your doctor, but also understand if these findings are refuted by medical science.
Many of us grow up with an exaggerated respect for doctors bordering on awestruck. They are among the most educated and highly paid professionals we encounter. As a result, we as patients may be intimidated during an appointment and unable to express ourselves clearly. This attitude can be overcome by realizing that doctors enter their profession because they want to help people overcome illness, improve their health and well-being.
Doctors are more approachable when you understand that their lives are much like yours, with families and challenges around work and home. The best doctors can translate medical concepts into common language that is meaningful to the patient.
Tips to work effectively with your doctor
Here are eight tips to work effectively with your doctor:
Be prepared for your appointments: Make sure to bring a list of any questions, medications, and supplements you are taking, and any symptoms that you are experiencing. As noted above, patients may feel intimidated, nervous and rushed during a doctor’s appointment. Preparing in advance and writing down your questions and symptoms can help ensure you cover everything.
- Be honest: It is important to be honest with the doctor about your medical history, lifestyle, and any current symptoms. For a doctor to correctly diagnose your condition, you should disclose any problems you are experiencing. Mental and behavioral problems may be most difficult to share, such as addictions, compulsive behaviors or thoughts of self-harm. All of these provide important context to the doctor and should be part of your dialogue during the appointment.
- Share your goals: Make sure to communicate what you are hoping to accomplish in your treatment plan. In order to be satisfied with the appointment, it’s important to be clear what you want to accomplish. By expressing your personal goals at the start, you are more likely to get answers to your questions and clear directions for the days ahead.
- Ask questions: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek out more information. Many patients feel rushed or intimidated during the appointment and skip over topics that are important to them. That’s where preparation helps. You can consult your list of questions and make sure everything is covered. The doctor will respect your attention to detail and self-motivation. Those are qualities that helped him or her graduate medical school and survive a residency program.
- Follow through on your doctor’s instructions: Make sure to follow through on any treatment plans or follow-up appointments your doctor has recommended. You can take notes during your appointment to be certain you captured all instructions, or review the post-visit notes posted on your patient portal (such as MyChart). If you have questions after returning home, call the clinic and ask for a read-out of the clinical notes from a nurse. However you choose to remember instructions, always be certain and never guess.
- Stay organized: Keep track of any changes in your health, such as new medications, supplements, or symptoms. When you come to your appointment well organized and prepared, you are more likely to cover your important issues and not miss key details. In your role as patient, taking responsibility for your health means communicating clearly and planning ahead to get the answers you need.
- Stay up-to-date: Make sure to stay up to date with any changes in your health or treatments your doctor has recommended. Following your treatment plan ensures that you and your doctor are on the same page. Deviating from the treatment plan will make it difficult for the doctor to diagnose future problems. Think of you and your doctor as a team, aligned around the common goal of your good health.