The Importance of Healthy Doctor-Patient Relationships
Most of us place a huge amount of confidence in our doctors, entrusting them with our health and, at times, with our very lives. Patients are in a vulnerable position, with the balance of power often tipped in favor of the healthcare provider. This is why open two-way communication, trust, and mutual respect are so essential in doctor-patient relationships.
Ahead, we’ll explore the essential elements of good patient-doctor relationships, including the role patients play in the relationship, and we’ll offer tips for finding a good doctor.
What Makes a Good Doctor?
Most of us have probably had a negative experience with a healthcare provider at some point in time: the physician who dismissed our concerns, the nurse practitioner who repeatedly talked over us, or—worse—the surgeon who performed an unnecessary procedure or missed a serious problem.
What are the qualities that make a good doctor? Certainly, experience and credentials matter. You want a doctor who graduated from a good medical school, who has a good reputation among his or her colleagues, and, preferably, who’s board certified in their specialty. You also want to find someone who is part of your insurance plan’s network in order to keep costs under control.
Yet, all the credentials in the world can’t endow a doctor with a good bedside manner or make him genuinely care about his patients.
Trust: The Foundation of the Doctor-Patient Relationship
You wouldn’t want someone you don’t trust handling small everyday matters for you, much less diagnosing a health condition or performing a complex surgery. Trust is the foundation of any relationship, and doctor-patient relationships are no exception.
Research has uncovered some of the specific doctor behaviors that are most associated with patient trust—among them, caring, competence, and attentiveness.1 Patients want doctors who take the time to explain things thoroughly, who ask patients plenty of questions, and, conversely, who encourage patients to ask questions and be proactively involved in their care.1
Studies have shown that doctors who spend time educating patients, who use humor and laugh with their patients, and who encourage patients to express their concerns and opinions are less likely to be sued.2
Hallmarks of a Good Patient-Doctor Relationship
Finding a good family practice physician or specialist may require some searching. Whether you’re evaluating a new diabetes doctor or assessing a general practitioner you’ve seen before, here are some of the essential elements of a healthy doctor-patient relationship:
Open, two-way communication
Communication begins from the moment you first meet your doctor. Does she greet you warmly? Does he listen attentively as you describe your symptoms and concerns? Does she interrupt you, talk over you, or seem to dismiss your worries?
Your doctor should take your complete history, ask you plenty of questions, and encourage you to talk openly and honestly about your situation. He should take his time, listening attentively to your concerns.
Most doctors are pressed for time today for a variety of reasons, but a doctor who rushes through your visit not only risks making uninformed decisions about your care and treatment, he or she also misses an opportunity to establish a meaningful relationship with you.
If you feel rushed, unheard, dismissed, confused, or unsure during your visit, calmly let your doctor know. If he or she isn’t receptive to your feelings, this is a sign they aren’t the right doctor for you.
The patient’s role
Likewise, it’s vital that you share all of your symptoms and concerns with your doctor and not withhold information, even information that may be embarrassing. Remember that your doctor is a trained professional who needs to know the whole picture in order to accurately diagnose and treat your condition.
Also, keep in mind that healthcare providers are only human—being rude or aggressive toward doctors, nurses, and other healthcare personnel is not only distracting and stressful for these caregivers, it can also lead to medical mistakes. As difficult as your situation may be, the age-old expression applies: "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
Shared decision making
Your doctor should give you the opportunity to choose the treatment approach that makes you most comfortable based on your wishes and goals. This is called shared decision making. If you feel like your doctor is pushing you into accepting a specific treatment plan, this is a warning sign. When it comes to decisions (large and small) about your healthcare, your doctor should be your partner in the decision-making process.
Warm bedside manner
Few of us are more vulnerable than when we’re in pain or scared or anxious about our health status. Whether we’re dealing with a relatively minor issue or a major health crisis, our doctor’s bedside manner—his or her body language, vocal tones, openness, empathy, and honesty—are critical.
Doctors face the challenge of having to deliver an unfavorable diagnosis or prognosis to their patients, which isn’t an easy position for anyone. Yet, delivering such news can and should be done honestly and with empathy.
A doctor who is cold, arrogant, impatient, rushed, or who otherwise demonstrates a poor bedside manner can quickly lose your trust and leave you feeling unsure, anxious, frightened, angry, and alone.
Sometimes we just aren’t compatible with our doctor. Perhaps he or she is very direct, talks faster than you can follow, or has a demeanor that makes you anxious or uncomfortable. Incompatibility is not necessarily a reflection of your doctor’s ability—sometimes you just don’t "vibe” with the other person, doctor or otherwise. Use your first visit as a test. If you’re not comfortable by the end of the visit, considering finding another physician.
Respect for patients’ wishes (informed consent)
Sometimes disparities arise between what a doctor knows or believes to be medically best for a patient and what the patient wants. For example, a doctor may strongly encourage the use of a particular medication that has side effects a patient considers unacceptable. Or, because of religious beliefs, a patient may refuse a blood transfusion that could improve or prolong their life.
As a patient, your doctor is ethically obligated to consider your wishes about your healthcare. This principle of "informed consent” means your doctor has provided you with clear and complete information about your health status and conveyed the implications and consequences of an action, such as a surgical procedure.
As long as a patient is of sound mind (able to make decisions about their healthcare), in most circumstances, a doctor must respect the patient’s wishes, even if it goes against the doctor’s advice and makes it necessary to have the patient sign a liability waiver.
More Tips for Finding a Doctor You Trust
·Be mindful of red flags: Repeated malpractice claims against your doctor or hospital are a red flag; yet, it’s important to note that the majority of doctors have been sued at some point (we live in a litigious society, after all). One or two lawsuits may not be cause for panic, but, if the physician or hospital has a history of lawsuits, this is a problem sign. You can find out about lawsuits against a particular physician, medical practice, or hospital via your state’s medical board, department of health services, or court records.
·Look for a board-certified doctor: Board certification through the American Board of Physician Specialties (ABPS) means the physician has earned a four-year medical degree from a qualified medical school, is licensed to practice medicine by a state medical board, has completed an accredited residency program of at least 3-5 years, has passed exams administered by the ABPS, and participates in continuing education.
·Ask about outside influences: In particular, ask about drug reps and medical device manufacturers—who often influence doctors and physician practices to use particular drugs, often by wooing them with catered lunches and other perks. Your doctor’s response about his/her relationship with drug reps may be telling. At a minimum, ask your doctor why he or she is prescribing a particular drug, and be wary if he/she pressures you to use a drug that has side effects you find unacceptable. If your doctor sends you home with a bag of drug samples, this is a telling sign.
·Think about technology: Most clinics, hospitals, and medical practices have transitioned or are in the process of transitioning to electronic health records (EHR) systems, which help your doctor track your medical history and exchange information with specialists, among other functions. Many of these systems also feature secure patient portals, through which patients can book and track doctor appointments, view medical records and lab results, send messages to their doctors, and request prescription refills. While there are drawbacks to EHR systems (a common complaint is reduced face-time with doctors), these systems also have their advantages.
Fulton County Medical Center: Your Trusted Healthcare Provider
Our Fulton County, PA medical center has been providing comprehensive care in a patient-centered environment for more than 65 years. From diagnostic servicesto cardiopulmonary care, to nutrition counseling, Fulton County Medical Center offers a full spectrum of services to patients of all ages.
As a leading healthcare provider in the area, our focus is on compassionate care and community health. We strive to create a warm, supportive environment and to empower our patients to take an active role in their own care and treatment. Please contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our highly trained providers.