In the search for the ideal healthcare team, the conversation is often focused on the type of tests offered, the specialties and experience of providers, and the outcomes they produce. While these factors are undoubtedly important, one component that often gets ignored is the quality of the doctor-patient relationship.
It is understandable how this might happen. Many of us have been conditioned not to expect much of a relationship at all with our primary care doctors. This is because in conventional models of care, volume of appointments is prioritized, meaning patients are often treated more like numbers than individual people. It is not uncommon for patients to have to wait weeks for an appointment only to have a few minutes with the doctor once they are seen.
Fortunately, alternative models of primary care exist that are upending these expectations. By reprioritizing the patient and focusing on the core tenets of building a productive relationship, they are laying the groundwork for higher-quality care.
The 4 core tenets of a healthy doctor-patient relationship
Like any successful relationship, the one between a doctor and a patient depends on how closely it follows a set of core tenets. Understanding these tenets and how they apply to both the patient and the doctor is key to establishing a strong doctor-patient relationship.
Whether between friends, spouses, or a doctor and their patient, it all starts with trust. Patients must be able to trust their provider and know their advice and knowledge will improve their health. If they can’t, then nothing else matters. Likewise, a provider must be able to trust that their patient is being honest with them and will adhere to any recommendations they provide. Having reciprocated trust is the building block of a thriving relationship between a doctor and patient.
Healthcare can be notoriously complicated. Unfamiliar medical terms and uncertain outcomes can be significant obstacles from the perspective of the doctor and patient. This means that patients and providers alike must have strong communication skills. For instance, patients need to be able to communicate their health concerns, lifestyle, and any other factors that could inform their care. Providers, meanwhile, must be skilled at thoroughly communicating any and all information about a health condition, as well as treatment protocols and options — while keeping the patient’s needs in mind.
This could also be called “mutual admiration.” Either way, respect needs to be practiced on both the patient and provider side. For patients, this simply means respecting their doctor’s expertise and training, then showing them respect by following their recommendations. As for providers, they can show respect by looking beyond the patient’s symptoms and treating them like an individual. That means considering and empathizing with every aspect of their life — from their diet to their lifestyle, to even any mental health barriers — when caring for them.
Similar to trust, reliability is an essential component for overcoming the often confusing and complex world of healthcare. In practice, this means patients must be able to rely on their provider to follow up with results or address their concerns with validity. And providers should have no question that their patients will follow any advice or treatment protocols they suggest to them. Both sides need to be dependable to each other.
How to improve the doctor-patient relationship
It can sometimes feel as if the four tenets described above are difficult to find anywhere, much less in our doctor’s office. However, there are actions we can take now to begin building a stronger and more productive relationship with our provider.
1. Practice vulnerability.
There is no benefit to hiding information from your doctor about your health. Try not to conceal anything you’re feeling or experiencing with your health. This includes lifestyle choices, diet, mental health, as well as your feelings about your progress towards better health. You should feel comfortable being transparent. If you’re not, it may be time to seek out a new provider who makes you feel comfortable expressing yourself.
2. Remain open-minded.
Occasionally, your doctor may recommend a treatment option you weren’t expecting. Or they may push you to make a lifestyle change you are not confident in making. If you trust them, then choose to remain open-minded. Know they have your best interests at heart and are using their knowledge to support your health.
3. Schedule regular follow-up appointments.
Avoid the impulse to only schedule appointments when you are feeling sick. Instead, it is important to keep a close eye on your health whether you are battling an acute issue or not. Take the initiative and schedule check-ins regularly to maintain good health. Let your provider “walk beside you” in health – not just in disease.
Knowing when to make changes to your current healthcare team
Creating a productive and trusting patient-provider relationship does not happen overnight. It can take time, patience, and understanding on both the patient and provider’s part.
However, sometimes the obstacle is the system itself: the conventional healthcare model can make it seem impossible to get the level of attention you need to develop a strong relationship with your doctor. Fortunately, there are new models of care that allow more time for patients to meet with providers to give you the undivided, personalized attention you need.
Direct primary care (also referred to as concierge primary care) differs from the conventional primary care model in several ways lends itself to a more supportive patient-provider relationship. This includes a smaller patient panel to allow more time with patients, longer appointment times, little wait time to see a provider, in-depth and specialized testing to gain a deeper understanding of overall health, unlimited sick visits, and frequent check-ins. All of these components make it possible for providers to give patients as much time, attention, and personalized care as they need to fully optimize their health. In turn, this helps providers develop deeper and more meaningful relationships with their patients which ultimately can lead to better health outcomes.
Want to learn more about how Essential Health providers prioritize the doctor-patient relationship? Schedule a Meet & Greet with us today to speak to one of our providers.