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Partners in good health: Building a beneficial relationship with your doctor

January 8, 2019

The doctor-patient relationship is much different today than it was years ago. It used to be that patients simply showed up at their doctor’s office and then followed the medical advice given with no hesitation. But now that we have the world at our fingertips, we have the ability to research and “diagnose” our symptoms, and to read stories or get advice from other people with similar conditions.

While Googling our symptoms can sometimes give us an understanding of what ails us, we need to recognize that this is often a stab in the dark and therefore we cannot rely on this information. Our doctor is the only person qualified to provide proper health advice. We place a significant amount of confidence in our doctor, trusting them with our health, our loved ones’ health, and at times, our lives. Regardless of the reason for the visit, it’s essential that we feel safe and know we can trust and be honest with our doctor – key elements of a positive doctor-patient relationship. 

Building a relationship means your doctor will get to know you and your health, leading to personalized care, accurate diagnoses, and treatment plans that will work best for each patient. It also means that we take an active role in our care and, as studies have shown, can lead to better health outcomes, higher satisfaction with our doctor and more control over our own health and well-being.

Communication, respect, and trust are keys to any healthy relationship, so here are a few recommendations to help build a more beneficial one with your family physician or specialist:

Prepare for your appointment. Make a written note of what you want to discuss such as the symptoms you are experiencing and any questions you have, and include a list of all prescription medications, naturopathic/homeopathic remedies, and herbal supplements and vitamins you are taking. This will help you make the most of your time with your doctor, ensure you have remembered everything, and let you and your doctor decide together what can be discussed at a future appointment.

Advise of medical care received elsewhere. You doctor needs to know about any other medical care you’ve received such as at a walk-in clinic, other GP or specialist, or naturopathic clinic as it can affect your treatment. When you visit a walk-in clinic, ask that a record of your visit to be sent to your primary care doctor.

Be honest. It’s important to be upfront about all of your symptoms and concerns, even ones you may consider embarrassing. Your doctor has heard it all, and you might not realize how important a piece of information can be in diagnosing and treating your condition.
Be sure you understand and can follow your care plan. If you don’t have a clear understanding of next steps, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor before you leave, or to phone the office once you get home. The care plan provided by your doctor will only work if you understand it and follow it as prescribed. This may include things like getting more exercise, taking the right medication at the right time, or monitoring your blood sugar. Talk to your doctor if your care plan doesn’t sound doable, or you are finding your medication isn’t working.

Use Dr Google sparingly. You can’t rely on it for any kind of accurate information for your specific situation. While it’s good to take an interest and do your research, discuss any findings with your doctor, but remember medical care is an area in which your doctor has significant experience so it is likely he or she is already three steps ahead.

You and your doctor are partners in your ongoing journey to getting healthy, staying healthy or managing your illness or other health care concerns – so as partners it’s important to respect each other, be honest, and communicate regularly.