We all want health-care providers who are experienced and skilled, but some factors that seem to have less to do with medical abilities may be equally important to your care. Here are six concerns that commonly crop up in the doctor-patient relationship, and what to do to make yours much better:
Concern: A failure to communicate
Maybe when you try to tell your doctor what’s bothering you, she interrupts, without looking up from her chart or computer screen. Or she’s all business and her brusqueness makes you feel awkward about asking questions.
Studies have found that if your doctor has good people skills — making plenty of eye contact with you or responding to your emotions, for example — you have a better chance of losing weight and succeeding at lowering high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
Fix it. Speak up: Let your doctor know, for example, that you feel nervous about asking questions or that you can better focus on what she’s saying if she faces you instead of the computer. And instead of relaying just your symptoms (“my head hurts”), tell a full story: Describe when the pain started, your activities at the time and the physical sensations you’re experiencing.
Concern: He makes decisions without your input
For health concerns large and small, your doctor should discuss the pros and cons of treatment options, then help you make an informed choice. That shared decision-making can increase your chances of positive results because it boosts the likelihood that you’ll stick with the treatment.
Fix it. If your doctor isn’t receptive to your ideas, ask him how the benefits and risks of his recommendations compare with your preferences. One helpful strategy: Ask whether you can have some time to think about his suggestions. Another useful tactic: If you’ll be discussing a serious issue, bring a family member along with you to the appointment. Often it’s easier for someone else to pose tough questions or ask about other treatment options.
Concern: She discourages second opinions
Second opinions aren’t needed for everyday issues, but if you’re facing a potentially serious condition, a diagnosis is unclear or the condition is quite rare, or when a course of treatment isn’t straightforward or may be risky, having someone else weigh in is wise. Although it’s common to be concerned about second-guessing your doctor, remember that physicians consult colleagues all the time,
Fix it. Try asking your doctor for her recommendation on someone to see for a second opinion, suggests Orly Avitzur, Consumer Reports’ medical director. Or if you have a particular health-care provider in mind, run it by your current doctor to help get her on board.
Concern: The doctor’s office is disorganized
Perhaps no one returns your calls in a timely manner, it’s hard to get drug refills or test results, or the doctor always runs behind. “A disorganized office wastes your time, can result in poor care, and increases the likelihood of medical errors,” says Marvin M. Lipman, Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser.
Fix it. Mention the problem to her. She may be able to address issues by having a staff member update patients on office wait times every 20 minutes, for instance. If the receptionist or office manager seems receptive, ask him how to communicate efficiently — by secure email, perhaps — or whether you can book appointments and get test results and prescription refills via a patient portal.
Concern: You don’t feel respected by your doctor
Does your physician scold you about your weight or your sedentary lifestyle? Or do you think she’s being patronizing because of your age? Unfortunately, research bears out the fact that some doctors judge patients negatively on the basis of age, gender ethnic background and more.
Fix it. Keep in mind that you both have the same goal — your health — and she may not realize how her behavior or delivery affects you, or understand how challenging a health problem may be for you. But do let your doctor know that you feel criticized or dismissed. And if you’re struggling with a problem — for example, quitting smoking — ask whether she can recommend extra support, such as a structured cessation program.
Concern: She holds back important info
In some cases, a doctor may not fully discuss the costs or potential side effects of a medication or procedure, or may be uncomfortable about sharing bad news when a patient is dealing with a serious illness. Though some of us may feel overwhelmed by medical details or negative news, not having the entire picture may lead you to stop taking a vital drug or ignore her advice.
Fix it. Tell your doctor that you want to know about side effects, recovery periods and more.