Opinion

Building a strong patient-doctor relationship—and why it matters | Dr. Tomlin

It seems deceptively simple, but it’s true: choosing a primary care provider and establishing an ongoing relationship with your physician is one of the most effective tools you have to manage your own health care.

Each time you come in for a visit, your doctor learns more about you, your lifestyle, your medical history and your health concerns. Having these interactions allows you both to identify things as basic as lifestyle changes that can go a long way to addressing potential risk factors. It can also help in early detection and diagnosis of illnesses, which is a key factor for some of the most effective treatments.

Choosing a provider

Not every doctor, however, is a perfect match for every patient. So, what should you consider when deciding if your physician is right for you? Frequently, it comes down to communication.

Communication, of course, is a two way street. Not only does your doctor need to listen to your concerns, but you also need to be comfortable voicing them. Start by asking yourself if you feel you can be honest with your physician. Are you at ease when sharing details about your medical concerns, or do you feel judged or intimidated?

An open dialogue is necessary, as it ensures both you and your physician are on the same page. Equally important is that you receive the level of interaction and feedback you desire. Do you want your doctor to lead in decision-making, or do you prefer someone who will partner with you in the process? If the latter, you’ll benefit from a physician who is a responsive listener. Make sure he or she follows up your comments and questions with thoughtful replies; you should never feel rushed out the door.

If at any point you feel uncomfortable, or that you’re not getting the attention you need, don’t be afraid to speak up. A doctor’s no. 1 priority is to care for patients, so some constructive feedback may enhance both your physician’s relationship with you, and with other patients.

Still, sometimes the chemistry just isn’t right. When that happens, it’s perfectly OK to switch to a new provider. After all, being actively engaged in your own care is to your benefit—and engagement often only comes when you’re confident with your patient-provider relationship.

You’ll also want to take into account a doctor’s special interests, and how they may align with your needs. For example, some physicians like to provide women’s care, while others prefer to work with children. And some providers may care for many patients with diabetes, while others tend to treat other types of illnesses.

Be prepared

Once you’ve found the best provider for you, try and make the most of each visit. Coming to appointments well prepared and informed benefits your quality of care, and helps your physician determine next steps.

Learning your family’s medical history, for example, is one way to educate yourself—and it can provide your physician with insights to your own health.  And don’t forget to share with your doctor information about your own history, including past surgeries and specialist evaluations.

As for scheduling appointments, it may be helpful to keep in mind any complex concerns you want to address with your physician. It’s possible that your doctor’s scheduling assistant can set aside extra time for your appointment.

On your side

It’s good to remember that your care isn’t limited to the occasional office visit. At EvergreenHealth, for instance, we encourage patients to call our Healthline, a free 24-hour-a-day consulting service, and speak with a nurse when they have questions. In 2013, health care professionals are more accessible than ever.

Jeff Tomlin, MD, is Senior Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for EvergreenHealth. Prior to joining the Kirkland-based healthcare network in 1990, Dr. Tomlin completed his medical school and residency at the University of Washington.

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