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How to Cultivate a Successful Patient-Doctor Relationship

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The patient-doctor relationship is pivotal when it comes to healthcare, but it wasn’t until recently that the rise of patient-centered care began to be implemented in the west. In many cultures (often areas of the developing world), doctors are viewed as authority figures, which can cause their patients to not stick up for themselves in the face of medical professionals.

I believe it is very important for doctors and patients to be team members, especially when you have a chronic illness or disability. Growing up in and out of hospitals and having countless tests and procedures done, I have learned thoroughly what makes patient-doctor relationships thrive and how it can improve healthcare. Here is a list of tips and tricks for both the patient and doctor I have learned throughout my 23 years to improve the overall healthcare experience:


1. Do not underestimate your knowledge!

While doctors may have had many years of learning about the body, you actually live with yours… every day… 24/7. As a patient you have access to much of the knowledge your doctors cannot imagine having – use it by sharing your experiences with your doctors during healthcare conversations.

2. Ask questions!

You have the right to know anything and everything you want about your body. While there is something called “therapeutic privilege” which allows doctors to withhold information to optimize outcome, it is only enacted when the patient agrees to it before the information becomes available. Even if you are curious about your condition down to the molecular level, ask away! They should be able to answer!

3. Be a diva and have a list of requests!

My mother gave me this idea in middle school when I was having a lot of surgeries, and it really does make the hospital experience better. I comprised a list of about five requests that ranged from where to not put an IV to making sure my foley (urine catheter) was out before I woke up. Take some time to create your own list before having a surgery or procedure done.


1. Take off the white coat.

I find that the white coat (especially in the clinical setting) is the initial symbol of the patient-doctor hierarchy that simply shouldn’t exist. Additionally, the white coat may simply be intimidating to a young child or even a parent.

2. Don’t instruct – converse!

Instead of rattling off a list of restrictions for your patients, ask them how they feel about your suggestions. Let them know it is their body to do with it what they want, but it is in your professional opinion to make certain recommendations. Doing this grants them the feeling of autonomy. Additionally, as a sick kid I was just utterly defiant in the face of instruction-rattling doctors!

3. Be compassionate and empathetic.

I believe these are the two most important qualities for really anyone to have, but especially someone in a healthcare profession. Being cognizant of maintaining these two qualities will help cultivate a successful patient-doctor relationship!

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Thinkstock photo via monkeybusinessimages.

Originally published: October 16, 2017
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