6 Ways to Have a Better Relationship With Your Doctor

Get more out of each visit.

  • Bring a list of questions to the appointment so you’re ready with your concerns.
  • Know your medical history — it’s key for a diagnosis — and be honest.
  • Don’t come in with a self-diagnosis, as it can destroy the doctor-patient relationship.

K. Aleisha Fetters, Contributor

Your visits might be sporadic and your conversations all business, but what you and your doctor have is still a relationship. And it’s an important one.

“For the doctor, building rapport and a trusting relationship with a patient allows for a greater sensitivity to what’s going on with the patient,” says board-certified neurologist Harry G. Kerasidis, M.D., founder of Chesapeake Neurology Associates in Maryland. “The physician can pick up on even the non-verbal cues that the patient is communicating.”  And for the patient, “having that trusting relationship inspires confidence and a positive approach to the treatment plan, ensuring compliance and enhancing the odds of success.”

Plus, if you and your doctor get along famously, heading to the doctor’s office isn’t so much of a, well, headache. Here are six ways to improve the doctor-patient relationship.

1. Bring a List of Questions When your doctor asks, “what brings you in today?” don’t say “um.” Instead, before your appointment, write out a list of your concerns and questions, recommends Cary A. Presant, M.D., F.A.C.P., author of Surviving American Medicine. That way you can respond with “I have three concerns. First of all…” or similar. Presant says: “You can even give the medical assistant a copy of your questions to put on the chart before you see the doctor so he or she knows what you will be asking.” 

2. Share Your Story Many times the right diagnosis comes from your medical history, says Kerasidis. Your social life, familial support, stress level, energy, emotions, diet, and sleep are all important factors your doctor needs to consider. “By knowing these, the doctor can give you a more comprehensive plan to get healthy and make better suggestions and even order appropriate consultations or assistance,” Presant says. To help get all of that info, your doctor may go into interview mode. “This is not meant to interrupt your story, or minimize the importance of what you are saying,” Kerasidis says, “but rather is to help guide your story into a format that helps the doctor understand your condition.” Feeling like it’s a lot to remember? A headache or migraine diary might be a good idea to help you keep track of it all.

3. Don’t Lead the Witness “What really destroys a relationship is when the patient has made their diagnosis before they walk in,” says doctor-patient advocate Patrick Roth, M.D., chairman of neurosurgery at Hackensack University Medical Center. So, for instance, when your doctor asks what’s wrong, it’s better to list your symptoms honestly and clearly rather than saying you’ve decided — after an extensive web search — that you have rare Alice in Wonderland syndrome.

4. Be Honest A lot of patients fudge the truth with their doctors (How much do you drink? Have you ever smoked?) out of fear of judgment. But 100 percent honesty is vital to building trust between you and your doctor, Roth says. Plus, unless your doctor gets a clear picture of your health history, how can he or she come up with the best treatment plan for you?

5. Listen Up You can get a lot information thrown at you in a typical doctor’s appointment. Make sure you don’t miss anything. Presant suggests writing down answers, and even using your smartphone to record your doctor’s advice if he or she will allow it. If you often get overwhelmed at the doctor’s office, consider asking a family member or friend to join you. “Four ears hear more than two,” he says.

6. Understand Your Biases “Some people by nature are naturalists. They look at the body as being able to heal itself and do not want to take medication,” Roth says. “Others are interventionists. If there’s a pill, they will take it.” People enter the doctor’s office with preferences and biases that can make it difficult to look at their diagnoses and treatment options objectively. However, by understanding what yours are, you can discuss them with your doctor so that, together, you can come up with the best treatment plan for you.

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