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Is This Doctor/Patient Relationship Worth Saving?

There are times when it's worth the extra work


Updated: May 23, 2004

Doctor and Patient

The doctor/patient relationship is critical to good health on many levels. Obviously, anyone with health issues needs a good physician. Beyond that basic fact, the doctor/patient relationship should provide patients with reliable information, the comfort of knowing we have good medical assistance, a knowledgeable ally with whom to discuss problems presented by our health issues, and a form of validation. Even when others around us don't understand our invisible illness, we count on our doctors to do so, thus providing validation.

We've discussed situations where finding another doctor could be the best solution, but we also need to discuss situations where there's a doctor/patient relationship that's worth working on and improving.

There are several reasons an appointment with your doctor, especially a first appointment may not go as well as you'd like:

  • Everyone can have an "off" day.
  • When we're nervous about an appointment, we may not express ourselves as well as other times.
  • If there have been emergencies, the doctor may be running behind or trying to handle multiple cases at once.
  • When we're used to a particular doctor, it can be unsettling getting used to another one and the routines in his or her office.
  • Examinations, tests, and illnesses that have become familiar and routine can unfamiliar and a bit frightening to patients.

If you've been seeing your doctor for awhile, and communication seems to be decreasing, or there's something else making you uncomfortable, discuss it with your doctor at your next appointment. If you've only had one appointment you need to evaluate the situation and determine if there's a possibility of developing a good doctor/patient relationship. How did you feel about the diagnosis, medical advice, and treatment plan you discussed with the doctor? If you felt comfortable with those areas, but not so comfortable asking questions, talking to the doctor, and working with him or her as a treatment partner, it's worth trying to improve the relationship. There are a number of things you can try for your next appointment:

  • Type up all of your questions, leaving space between them to make notes. Print two copies -- one for yourself, one for the doctor. This will help the doctor avoid mistakenly thinking you're finished if there's a pause in the conversation.
  • If you haven't already, explain to your doctor that you want to be well educated about your health and work with him or her as a treatment partner.
  • When possible, position yourself between the doctor and the door. That way, if he or she starts to leave, simply lifting your hand will often keep them in the room.
  • If the doctor seems to be rushing through the appointment and not answering your questions, you may need to just let him or her know this is making you uncomfortable and ask if the problem can be addressed.
  • You can click HERE for a letter written to doctors to address these problems. If you think you're going to be uncomfortable discussing communication problems with your doctor, you can always try mailing a copy after your first appointment.

The selection of the right doctor is a critical decision. It impacts our physical health and emotional wellbeing. It's essential that the relationship with our doctors be one of good communication and mutual respect. That may or may not happen with the first or even the second appointment, but if the potential is there, it's worth the additional work to save and/or develop a successful relationship.

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