Building a strong relationship: When patient and doctor work together, health improves
July 24, 2018
There are many important steps needed to maintain good health: eating a nutritious diet, getting regular exercise, and managing chronic conditions. An often overlooked but vitally important element of good health is establishing a strong relationship with one's primary care doctor.
A study from Massachusetts General Hospital found that improving the doctor-patient relationship had an impact on a person's overall health equal to other small health interventions, such as taking a daily aspirin.
The same researchers also found that simply having a good relationship with their doctor could increase a patient's weight loss and reduce blood pressure — both key indicators of long-term health.
A separate collection of 13 studies published in the journal PLOS ONE found that people with chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoarthritis and asthma, were more likely to improve when they worked in partnership with their doctors.
"An honest and collaborative line of communication with your physician is so important," says Jill Fitzpatrick, MD, family medicine physician and medical director at Dignity Health Medical Group – Sierra Nevada. "That open communication provides the basic foundation you need to start working through your health care needs and concerns."
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A good starting point for a positive patient-doctor relationship is honesty.
A 2015 study from ZocDoc found that 30 percent of women and 23 percent of men have lied to their doctors through omission, often in response to questions relating to certain behaviors, including diet, exercise, alcohol consumption and smoking.
Mutual respect has also been found to be a critical element in the patient-doctor relationship. For patients, that can be as simple as being on time and avoiding last minute cancellations.
Patients can also be respectful of their doctor's time by being prepared. Write down your most important concern as well as any questions you need answered. This can include medication dosage or side effects, the need for follow-up care, or a request for a more thorough explanation of a diagnosis.
Fitzpatrick points out that patients should seek out physicians who show respect to them, as well. "The physician patient relationship should be a respectful partnership where each feels heard and participates in the plan of care," she explains. "A good doctor will listen to their patients' concerns and work with them as a partner in their health care."
Before you leave an appointment with your doctor be sure you are clear on what was discussed and on any instructions he or she provided. You may find that it is helpful to take notes during the appointment. This can help you recall specifics after you leave. Or you may want to bring a loved one or friend to your appointment to help you process the information.
Ask your doctor how he or she prefers to handle any questions or problems that may arise after your appointment — some may prefer a phone call, while others may respond quicker to an email or online message.
Fitzpatrick encourages patients to be mindful of their technology use when it comes to their health care.
While researching specific conditions or medications may be helpful, blindly searching symptoms can lead to unnecessary fear and worry.
"Each person is unique and needs to be treated as an individual," says Fitzpatrick. "Internet information can provide some basic information but cannot replace the tailored approach a discussion with your physician can have."
Finally, Fitzpatrick encourages anyone with concerns about their patient-doctor relationship to share them with their doctor.
"Ultimately, we are each personally responsible for our health and well-being. Having a trusting relationship with your physician will help you ensure you are getting the best information to help you navigate to your optimal health."