Doctors and Patients Need to Start Agreeing More

Patients and physicians often have different opinions on how much control a person should have over their own health.  A study by the University of Iowa suggests that when a doctor and a patient agree regarding their attitudes on health care values, patients do a better job when it comes to taking their medications. 

This study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine and represents a growing body of evidence that suggests that patient-doctor compatibility has a profound effect on how doctors influence their patients’ health.

The study involved surveys to assess to which extent doctors and patients believed patients had control over their health.  They also looked at additional metrics such as records of prescription refill requests over a year time frame.  Patients allowed their refills to lapse only 12 percent of the time on average if the patient and their physician were in sync.  However, if the patients had beliefs that differed from their physicians’ their lapse rate increased by 50%.

"Patients who held high personal control beliefs about their health were 50 percent less likely to adhere to their medication regimen if they were being treated by physicians who didn't share this belief in strong patient control," said Dr. Alan Christensen, the author of the study.

In addition, he stated:  "Frustration is one likely reason for this. If they're not getting the control they expect or prefer, they become less satisfied with the healthcare they receive and react to that loss of control by being less likely to follow the doctor's recommendations, including filling refills."

Christensen also said that additional research suggests that there is a dire need to pair doctors with patients with similar views.  If possible, it is necessary for doctors to tailor their approach to patients’ expectations.


There is certainly a movement in health care towards patient-centered care.  This gives the patient more of an opportunity to be involved and have a greater say in their health care. While to most this may seem like a good thing, to others it may seem like a burden.  As Dr. Christensen describes, “Some patients like to receive a lot of information about their condition and prefer to be a leader or equal partner in making decisions about their health. Others would rather just have the doctor sift through the information and tell them what to do."

Unfortunately, pairing physicians with patients proves to be a difficult task.  For example, there may be only a limited number of specialists in an underserved area, such as rural counties.  Christensen believes that the next step in doctor-compatibility research is to develop a short questionnaire to assess patient preferences.  This could perhaps be filled out in the waiting room while completing a routine medical history.  Or, it could be done in advanced utilizing an online patient-doctor matching platform.

The ability to interview your doctor before the first visit is invaluable.  As Dr. Christensen describes:  “Our goal is to develop some tools to help… Physicians, with few exceptions, say that they have already attempted to tailor their approach. I don't doubt that they do try, within the time constraints they have and their ability to discern what the patient wants. But the evidence we have suggests that they're often not doing so effectively,"

While it takes some extra time up front, patients will certainly be more happy and likely to follow treatment if given the option to choose a doctor who they are more compatible with.  This will, undoubtedly, lead to higher patient satisfaction and improved health care outcomes.  This is all the more reason to utilize a patient-doctor matching service.

Please visit Dr. Christensen's page at the University of Iowa for more information and additional publications.


  Values in Medicine, General Healthcare, Feature Article
  health care, health care costs, health decisions, public policy, communication, patient-doctor relationship, compatible doctors, physician decision-making,



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