If you’ve ever been frustrated with your doctor, you’re not alone. Today’s current healthcare environment has made building strong doctor-patient relationships difficult.
You make the appointment, weeks or even months in advance. You arrive at the office and then sit and wait for your turn. Finally, your name is called and before you know it, you’re leaving—and probably wondering “what just happened?” Unfortunately, I hear this all too often. Doctor visits are too short, feel rushed, and the doctor doesn’t seem to be listening.
As a physician, I can tell you that most doctors are doing the best they can. Primary care physicians are in extremely short supply and as a result are overscheduled, seeing upwards of 20 to 30 patients a day. Medicine has become a mill, a constant churn that makes it almost impossible to really connect and focus on healing.
It’s frustrating for doctors and patients alike. Nobody wants to feel like they’re being shuffled in and out of the doctor’s office, wondering if the doctor heard them. That’s why I want to give you some tips on how to maximize each and every visit so you can form a lasting, caring, positive relationship with your doctor. Let’s get this bond started!
Make A List of Questions and Concerns Before Your Visit
Before you even get to the doctor’s office, make a list of questions and concerns. I tell people to come up with at least three things they want to talk to the doctor about. This is very important. Think about how many times you’ve gotten to an appointment and got distracted or nervous and forgot what you wanted to ask.
Repeat Back What Your Doctor Says
Studies have shown that we only retain about 20% of what the doctor said, and half of that is incorrect! At your next appointment, make sure to repeat back to your doctor what he or she said. This will help you retain the information you just heard, plus allows the doctor to clarify anything that’s confusing. By doing this, you’ll feel a whole lot more comfortable.
Additionally, consider bringing your spouse, significant other, or another family member, to your appointments. Having a third party in the room can be immensely helpful in recounting details of a doctor’s visit.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Your Doctor Questions
Remember that this is about your health, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. If something doesn’t make sense or you need clarification, let the doctor know what’s on your mind. I’ve had patients tell me they didn’t ask questions because they didn’t want to “bother” me—and I’ve told them that there is nothing more important to me than their wellbeing, and it's never a bother. I’m sure your doctor feels the same way, so speak up!
I like to make sure my patients can answer 3 important questions before they leave my office:
1) What is my main problem?
2) What do I need to do?
3) Why is it important for me to do this?
Be sure you can answer these questions before you leave your doctor's office.
It’s helpful to consider your doctor’s visit as a strategic partnership, a sharing experience that will lead to greater, more productive outcomes. Ultimately, the more comfortable you are with your doctor, the more likely you will be to share with them even the most sensitive or potentially embarrassing concerns. This is also critical to the very best results.
The Four Cornerstones of Strong Doctor-Patient Relationships
Ultimately, your doctor’s appointments will be most productive when you have a strong doctor-patient relationship. In my book Bond: The 4 Cornerstones of a Lasting and Caring Relationship with Your Doctor, I discuss how to achieve the ultimate relationship with your doctor using four essential elements: trust, communication, respect, and empathy.
When these four pillars of connection are paired with proper nutrition, daily movement, and a strong spiritual foundation, true health and healing can take place and remarkable health outcomes can be achieved.
How To Build Trust In Your Doctor Relationships
I want to spend just a little more time on the first of those four cornerstone qualities: trust. For you to have a productive relationship with your doctor, you have to start with mutual trust.
Trust is defined as having confidence or faith in someone or something. By even making an appointment with a doctor, you’re demonstrating a basic level of trust in his or her abilities. But trust has to go deeper than that because you’ve got to feel comfortable opening up to share personal information. You’ve got to be able to trust that your doctor is listening carefully, without judgement, and will care for you in a deeply respectful way.
Plus, trust has to go both ways. Your doctor needs to be able to trust that you are being completely honest, will follow their recommendations, and will report back on your progress.
Trust-building can be a long process, but it is vitally important. Here are a few quick tips on how you can use your next doctor’s appointment to start building that long-term trust.
- Trust your gut. Tune in to how your doctor makes you feel on an intuitive level. Our gut feelings about people are there to help protect us and are very often accurate. If your gut tells you someone isn’t the right fit for you, consider looking for another provider. Ideally, you want a provider who can come to feel like a member of your family—someone you can talk freely to without fear of being judged.
- Trust that your doctor has your best interests in mind. One of the most common causes of doctor-patient mistrust is the belief that the doctor has something to gain from what he or she is recommending (certain medications, ordering tests, etc.). We don’t, I promise you. Virtually all physicians pursue a career in medicine because they want to help improve people’s lives, not make a fortune.
- Make sure your doctor can trust you. Withholding information that may be personal or embarrassing can stand in the way of true healing. Make a list of the top three things you would want your doctor to know but would probably withhold because you’re embarrassed or afraid to mention. What would you deny if asked about? Next time you have an appointment, tell your doctor that there are things you want to discuss, yet make you uncomfortable. Start that conversation and see where it goes.
- Be wary of “Dr. Google.” It’s so easy to search for and find health information online these days. It can be very tempting to look up your symptoms and come into your doctor’s appointment having already arrived at your own diagnosis. Of course, you can go ahead and do internet searches, but remember that information can be inaccurate or misleading—so make sure you’re relying on trusted websites. Always seek the advice of your doctor and try to avoid saying “But Google said…” during your appointment—because doing so demonstrates a lack of trust in your doctor’s expertise.
I’ll close by asking you to remember this: No good relationship—with your doctor or anyone else—can survive for very long without trust, healthy communication, mutual respect, and a willingness to be empathetic. As I like to say, that includes both sides of the stethoscope.
Finally, Stay Patient and Be Persistent
It may take a little time to build a strong doctor-patient relationship, especially in today’s rushed and often stressed world, but with a little planning and persistence, it can be done with outstanding results.
I know this is possible because it’s something I have personally witnessed countless times over my 20-plus years of medical practice. I urge you to take a few moments and think about your next doctor’s visit and see if, with a few adjustments, you can start to develop a rewarding and lifelong patient-doctor bond.