There’s a pernicious, pervasive, myth about health care today. It is fueled by the pharmaceutical industry and often encouraged by conventional practitioners. And it is at the root of why so many people continue to suffer from chronic and/or undiagnosed conditions. It goes something like this: “If I can just find the right prescription, then all of my health problems will be solved.”
This myth has one kernel of truth to it, however. Recent advances in medicine have led to a variety of new and effective therapies for a range of conditions — and with the right treatment properly administered, results can be life-changing. But placing so much emphasis on discovering the right singular treatment is akin to putting the proverbial cart before the horse. Jumping to a drug can often just mask symptoms and glaze over any long-term solutions to a chronic condition. To ensure a patient receives the best care, it is important to dedicate time to explore a patient’s health from a whole-person perspective, which can be accomplished by cultivating a strong provider-patient relationship.
Rethinking What the Provider-Patient Relationship Really Means
In every type of care setting, the relationship between provider and patient is foundational. Whether positive or negative, it can have a profound impact on the quality of care. For instance, studies have shown that successful relationships correlate with significantly improved functional health outcomes. But what does the ideal provider-patient relationship actually look like?
Unsurprisingly, this has been the subject of extensive study, with some scholars even breaking the relationship down into several different models, like the paternalistic model and the interpretive model. While the effectiveness of these different frameworks may be up for debate, the single most important characteristic of a productive provider-patient relationship is much more straightforward: time. When providers have enough time to really listen to their patients, understand their needs, and build a dynamic with them, all of the other common elements of a successful relationship can fall into place, leading to better support, trust, and ultimately, better health outcomes.
Creating Trust and Safety
A sense of trust and safety is a fundamental attribute of the provider-patient relationship. Patients must be able to trust that their provider is working toward their best interests and helping them achieve optimal health, while providers must have the confidence that their patients will properly adhere to their recommendations and remain truthful about how they feel. Yet, as in any relationship, it takes time to earn the trust and safety necessary to be comfortable sharing personal information that goes beyond a medical chart. When this time is not taken, the provider-patient relationship will suffer, along with the patient’s health.
Take hormone balance, for example. In conventional thinking, hormone levels are considered “normal” only within a specified range. But for many people — such as those who have a history of thyroid cancer, pituitary gland disease, or other metabolic issues — this “normal” range may not be optimal for their physiology. And in some cases, it may even be unsafe for their long-term health. Providers must take time to establish an open dialogue with their patients to determine if any specialty testing is needed to better provide the safest and most effective approach to their care as possible.
Personalization is simply the practice of creating a health plan that is as unique as the patient. Like trust and safety, it is another cornerstone of a healthy provider-patient relationship — although it may not be the first characteristic to come to mind. This is because conventional medicine has normalized an overreliance on pharmaceuticals to solve chronic health conditions. As long as their provider is prescribing treatments, many patients won’t even expect them to spend time understanding the actual causes of their health concerns.
This is a mistake that can reduce the patient to little more than a collection of symptoms. Instead, a good provider-patient relationship should be founded in the belief that the patient is more than their disease or a statistic — they are an individual. This means providers should be willing to look beyond the surface and dive deep into a patient’s unique health profile. This may involve specialized testing, prolonged visits to discuss lifestyle and health history, or even incremental strategies, such as stress management and nutritional care, that can be tailored to an individual and combined with conventional therapies to support whole-person health.
Making Availability a Priority
It sounds obvious, but the ability for patients to see a provider when they are sick is another basic element of a successful provider-patient relationship. After all, when health care is unavailable, it is ineffective. Yet conventional medical has severely limited what true availability really means. Patients may be able to schedule an appointment they feel unwell, but then they are pushed out the door with a prescription and/or advice they may or may not understand. In some cases, there is meaningful follow-up offered to make sure they are adhering to their treatments, and healthy patients may have to wait days or weeks to schedule a check-in visit.
A patient’s health does not stop being a priority after their initial visit, so neither should their provider’s availability. A truly effective provider-patient relationship needs to ensure that the patient does not just visit their provider when they are acutely ill, but establishes a pattern of regular visits to stay on track for health improvement. Providers should make the time to meet with each patient for as long as it takes to properly diagnose the root cause of their health concerns and make sure they understand and agree on a course of action. They should then should follow up with their patients regularly to assess their progress, answer any questions, and alleviate any concerns.
Precision Health Care Is Redefining the Provider-Patient Relationship
Although the effectiveness of health care is often measured using conventional benchmarks, truly optimizing health requires an entirely different set of standards.
Precision health care gives both patients and providers the time they need to build a successful and productive relationship. In this model, providers meet with each patient one-on-one for as long as it takes in order to fully understand their personal health concerns and goals. Providers and patients work together to build a personalized health plan that combines the best of conventional, functional, and integrative approaches. From there, patients are able to access their provider for any concerns or to discuss progress along the way to achieving optimal health.
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