Relationships with physicians are a breed all their own. They are unlike any other relationship we have, unless of course you are married to one.
Most of the time, our relationships with our physicians are one-sided, and peppered with on-the-run diagnoses and treatment plans. Enhancing the relationship with your doctor, expanding it just a bit beyond the clinical interaction, can maximize your medical care in ways you might not expect. As I said in my last blog, doctors are human beings. They are pressed for time, dealing with patient overload, phone calls from you, from pharmacies and other physicians, visits to patients in the hospital, filling out insurance forms for you and other patients, and filing appeals to insurance companies so you get the medical treatment they feel is right for you. The list goes on.
With the seven to fifteen minutes you have with your doctor, create some familiarity with her. You want her to remember you beyond a set of symptoms. I can tell you from all the interviews I’ve done for The Take-Charge Patient and my last book, Critical Conditions, that physicians, nurses and other medical professionals remember the patients they really like and the ones they really don’t. It’s human nature to want to do more for someone you care for and like as a person. And you want your doctor to go the extra mile for you. It also helps if you show you are invested in your health and medical care. This increases your doctor’s investment in you as her patient.
Try connecting to your doctor as a human being each time you see her. Consider a minute or two of chitchat to find some common ground between you. Does your doctor have kids? Do you? Do you share any of the same interests? Glance at her office walls. Are there photographs of sea animals? Did the doctor take those photos? Showing an interest in your doctor (something she rarely gets from other patients, by the way) can change the dynamic and begin the process of establishing some personal connection. This is an important part of laying the groundwork of a successful working relationship.
Sales people have this down cold. They know that if they can get the potential client to like them, the chances of making a sale are much greater. If you think about it, who are you more willing to go the extra mile for—someone you’ve chatted with informally and have connected to on a personal basis or someone you know nothing about and have no interpersonal connection with?
To maximize your medical care, you want your doctor and her staff, to like you. I’m not suggesting that you be disingenuous or put up with bad treatment from a doctor. Far from it. I’m asking you to be friendly and nice as you would with anyone you need something from that you cannot give yourself.
This might not work with every physician. Some doctor’s egos outweigh the importance of their patients. Some doctors, no matter what you do, will not respond to you as a human being. During my 16 month chronic pain condition, I had a consultation with a new specialist in hopes that he could shed some light on what was wrong with me. I’d seen about eight physicians of differing specialties before him and I was getting a bit desperate. I entered his office, my medical records in hand, and he greeted me with hostility. He stared me down as if I was going to crawl over his desk and strangle him. He was angry that I had not delivered my medical records ahead of time. Okay, maybe I should have but to be honest after so many months of chronic pain, I was not thinking clearly. I never knew why he treated me that way, and I must admit that it was hard not to take it personally, but in retrospect, I suspect he’d had a fight with his spouse that morning or something else had happened to put him in a foul mood.
Needless to say, I never went back. There’s no point in being a doormat for any doctor and I’m not suggesting empathy for all doctors in all situations. They are trained professionals who shouldn’t be treating their patients badly. That much we are clear on.
Consider the decent doctor. Even if we as patients interact with our physicians with respect and professionalism, maybe we can still bring some humanness to the table in hopes that it brings out something similar in our doctors.
6 tips to enhance your relationship with your doctor:
- Be polite and respectful. Thank the doctor if she has helped you. We all need a pat on the back for a job well done.
- Doctors are cognitive thinkers. Speak in an even tone. If you are overly emotional, it might be hard for your doctor to maintain a productive conservation. Maintain your composure even if you are confronted with a medical error. Be firm and respectful.
- Act invested in your health and medical care. This enhances your doctor’s engagement with you and your health.
- Be honest about your health, your habits, if you have followed through with her suggested treatment plan. Communicate with your doctor if you have not and tell her why. There are options available. Your doctor cannot suggest those if you have not been up front.
- Be in partnership with your doctor. Treat your doctor as you would any professional who has something you need that you cannot give to yourself. Don’t treat your doctor like a parent and don’t put up with being treated as a child.
- You want your doctor to see you as a human being. Find common ground with your doctor. Does he/she have kids? A sport or hobby you both share? If you begin on a personal level, your doctor will be less likely to see you as a set of symptoms.