Anyone who's ever been in love knows it's not always easy. Having a significant other is hard work! But the keys to relationship bliss become obvious over time: Developing a mutual understanding and practicing effective communication both go a long way.
Fortunately, this holds true for important relationships outside your love life -- such as the one you have with your doctor. Let's run through seven basic techniques to help enhance the ever-so-important doctor-patient relationship:
- Practice clear communication. Patients need to make their desires abundantly clear, whether that means being highly involved in decision-making or receiving thorough information on a diagnosis. So don't beat around the bush; rather, articulate what you want and need. Per the age-old adage, you don't get what you don't ask for.
- Don't be shy. If you were in the waiting room for hours, mention it to your doctor and ask if there is some way to shorten the wait in the future. You don't need to be quiet regarding your discontent -- you just need to be respectful. Only through open communication can both parties see eye to eye and begin correcting flaws.
- Ask to be involved. A 2003 article published in the British Medical Journal reported that "patients want to be people who doctors do things with, not people that doctors do things to" and "want to be consulted about their condition, their treatment, and how things will progress from the consultation." If you aren't happy with the decisions being made, it's not very likely that you will adhere to them. So take matters in your own hands: Be involved and help formulate your treatment plan.
- Make your goals clear. Now that you're involved in the decision-making process, make sure your doctor knows what your goals are. For instance, if you're with a physical therapist and would like to develop a stronger core or lose weight, simply tell them. The only way a doctor can help is if they know what to help with.
- Listen. Although you are establishing a team environment, always remember that your doctor is still the expert. In some situations, your input may be limited in scope or run counter to your health. Continue to be involved, but make sure to listen to -- and better yet, understand -- the doctor's professional opinion.
- Be persistent and patient. If, after all your efforts, you still feel like your doctor is working on you rather than with you, be as explicit as can be: Express that you want to work together and would like to be consulted every step of the way. If you see that they are still falling short of your needs, help pick up the slack: Encourage more direct responses and bring up any concerns you have. Changing old habits takes time, so don't fret if the relationship doesn't shift overnight.
- Be understanding. While doctors can surely improve their communication, let's not place the onus squarely on their shoulders. Remember, doctors are people, too. They -- just like you at your job -- become busy, stressed, and emotional in response to the daily peaks and valleys of their occupation. A momentary lapse in communication shouldn't cloud the inherent compassion that medical professionals must embody in order to spend day after day caring for the health of others. In other words, make an effort to be more understanding.
According to the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the doctor-patient bond is the "keystone of care: the medium in which data are gathered, diagnoses and plans are made, compliance is accomplished, and healing, patient activation, and support are provided." The doctor is not solely responsible in gathering the data, creating the plan, and achieving compliance. Arguably, the driving force in this relationship is the patient, so it's on you to explain to your doctor how you would like your care to be handled.
Just remember: Developing a strong relationship takes time, effort, understanding, and patience.