Tips to maximize the relationship with your doctor

An excerpt from The Take-Charge Patient: How You Can Get The Best Medical Care (Lemon Grove Press) which will be released May 15, 2012. 

Here are a few suggestions that will help you make the most of your relationship with your doctor. They are for your benefit as a patient, because the more you know, the more empowered you will feel.

Remember That Doctors Are Human Beings

Almost every health care professional emphasized that we all must realize that doctors are people just like us. They have personalities, feelings, good days, bad days, families and social lives.

Sometimes doctors are forced to sacrifice important events to tend to their patients. They miss their kids’ soccer games, medical appointments, school meetings and social events. Sure, they chose their profession, but the demands and sacrifices are great. I never realized just how much they sacrifice for their patients until I interviewed the physicians for this book.

Humanize Yourself to Your Doctor

It’s easy for us to feel the urgency to get right to the point of why we are seeing the doctor. We begin listing symptoms, talk about how we aren’t feeling well, and ask for help.

I happen to believe that if we jump right into our symptoms, that is how the doctor will view us—as a set of symptoms she needs to diagnose and treat. I want my doctor to see me as a human being, just as I see her. If she sees me as a human being, then more than likely she will connect to me personally, and that can enhance her willingness to help me. This may not always be possible as some doctors simply are not interested in connecting personally to their patients.

Use Your People Skills

If someone likes you, they are more willing to go the extra mile for you. This is where your people skills are useful because your doctor will respond to you more positively if you are friendly. That isn’t always easy if you aren’t feeling well, but I’ve heard from many doctors that a patient who is angry, bitter, belligerent or has a bad attitude is not well liked. Being a likeable patient is being a smart patient.

Being a smart patient doesn’t mean you are faking or being disingenuous. It means you implement strategies to maximize your interaction with the doctor and her staff. You don’t have to put up with bad treatment or allow anyone to treat you disrespectfully—I’m not suggesting that you be a doormat. I’m suggesting that being a nice person will get you more of what you want.

Be Nice to Your Doctor

Be nice, polite and appreciative. Many doctors shared experiences with me about patients who were not nice to them. If you aren’t nice to your doctor, you are not going to get what you want.

Your doctor has something you want that you cannot give to yourself. Do your best to elicit a positive response from your doctor. It’s just common sense.

We’ve all had experiences with doctors who have made us wait forever when we weren’t feeling well or whose staff ignored us or were rude or unhelpful. I’m not asking you not to stick up for yourself; I’m asking you to express yourself diplomatically because you need what this doctor has to offer.

I try to show goodwill and appreciation toward my doctors not just from a public relations perspective (although that does factor in), but also because I do truly appreciate what my doctors do for me. I am mindful of how far a simple verbal thank you or thank-you note goes.

The goal is to let your doctor know that you value the good care she gives you. If your doctor goes the extra mile for you, express gratitude. We all like to hear that we have done well or that we have done something to improve someone else’s life. Doctors need that too.

If you complain a lot or approach the doctor and staff with a bad attitude or a sense of entitlement, you are simply not going to get what you want. If there has been a serious error or act of obvious neglect, channel your anger so you don’t come across as out of control. Remember—be firm but respectful. No name-calling or yelling. You only discredit yourself if you yell at doctors and their staff. You look like the villain if you lose control.

Be Nice to the Doctor’s Staff

Befriend the doctor’s staff. This will help you in a multitude of ways. For example, if you have an urgent message for the doctor, need to see the doctor the same day, need a prescription refill sooner rather than later, or need a procedure scheduled immediately, most of the time you’ll get your needs met much sooner if you are friendly and appreciative of the doctor’s staff.

Most medical professionals suggested trying to talk with the same person each time you call the office to establish a relationship with that person. This will be your go-to person if you ever have an important need to be addressed.

If the front desk person fits you in for an urgent appointment, thank her. This person did you a favor.

Be Nice to the Doctor on Call

Several doctors mentioned the importance of being polite and respectful to the doctor on call—the physician who is covering for your doctor. If you are not, word gets around. This affects how the doctor and her staff perceive you, and it can affect the quality of your medical care.

Act Involved in Your Health

Who knows your body better than you do? You are the expert on you—share with your doctor what you know so she can do her job.

Most doctors said that patients who are involved and invested in their health cause them to be more involved and invested in the patient’s health. Many physicians said that if a patient doesn’t care, it makes their job much more difficult. Many said that patients who don’t care aren’t going to follow their instructions to get better.

If you think about it, what is your doctor’s motivation to go out of her way for you if you give the impression you don’t care about your health and medical care?

Martine Ehrenclou is a patient advocate and speaker.  She is the author of Critical Conditions: The Essential Hospital Guide to Get Your Loved One Out Alive and The Take-Charge Patient.

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  • Beth Gainer

    I love this article! It is a very insightful piece — with great points. Sometimes it’s difficult for patients to see doctors as humans, especially when the patients are going through a crisis. But I know that doctors do have feelings, hard days, etc. Once before my chemotherapy was to begin, my oncologist seemed to be in a bad mood. Although I was suffering, I thought that maybe he had lost a patient that day or got a plethora of bad news. I have empathy and appreciate all the work good doctors do.

  • sFord48

    Another advice column where I have to be charming to get good medical care?  I can’t feel overwhelmed or scared.  

    It’s not a doctor’s job to like me.

    • Dimple

      You’re not coming across as very likable right now, and I presume you’re neither scared nor overwhelmed.  Food for thought …

    • Terry M

       Not charming.  Just civil.

      You’re entitled to good medical care regardless of whether you’re charming, civil, or something in between.  Some people go to the other extreme though and are either rude or abusive.  Rudeness probably leads to a “grin-and-bear-it” attitude from those involved, but abusiveness from either party can and should result in termination of the provider-patient relationship.

      • sFord48

        From the post:  ”
        If someone likes you, they are more willing to go the extra mile for you.”

        It seems the author disagrees.  When I read this I thought of a friend’s son, who has  difficultly with social interactions.  He is quite blunt and sometimes can be offensive. A lot of people don’t like him.  I wonder if his doctors does.  I wonder if he shows up at the emergency room will the doctor go that extra mile for him.

        • Martine Ehrenclou

          Interesting question. I hope your friend’s son has his parent or other loved one with him to assist with the communication and interaction. Loved ones who act as advocates are invaluable. 

          • sFord48

            A doctor who let’s his/her feelings for or against a patient dictate the quality of care is a bad doctor.

      • Martine Ehrenclou

        We all have our own adjectives. These are a few among many strategies from my book to maximize your medical care. You either choose to utilize them or not. It’s your choice how much you want to maximize your medical care. 

    • Martine Ehrenclou

      Yes, you can be overwhelmed and scared. Of course you can. And we all do. These are suggestions to get the most from your provider and from your care. You can be overwhelmed and scared and still be polite and respectful. As a patient myself who lived through chronic pain for a year and a half, saw 11 doctors of differing specialties, went through 11 procedures and surgeries, saw three alternative medicine practitioners and was prescribed 22 medications, you bet I was overwhelmed and scared and I let doctors know it. I am now pain free, thankfully. I employed these and many other strategies from my book and never once was I treated disrespectfully by a doctor. Never once did a doctor doubt my credibility as a patient or dread me walking in the door. When sick, doctors have something you need that you can’t give yourself. You either decide to be a smart patient or not. 

  • Jody Hoch

    I always recognize my doctors are humans, but I expect the same from them. A recent experience has me thinking of firing one doc, he was rude, interrupted me, put words in my mouth, rushed me, and made assumptions that were off base. The treatment was so rude all I wanted to do was get out of there. Thankfully my PCP stepped in and took over the management of my case. We left him to worry about covering his ass. It is such a shame, he needs to walk his talk.

    • Martine Ehrenclou

      Glad you walked away from that doctor!

  • Eve Harris

    The author’s rhetorical question “…what is your doctor’s motivation to go out of her way for you *if you give the impression* you don’t care about your health…?” is sticking in my craw.

    Very few people can be actually accused of NOT caring about their own health. When a patient expresses disregard for her own well being it should be a red flag for depression.

    I believe the author is actually talking about something more subjective: the providers’ judgement about the patient’s ability and willingness to accept responsibility for her own health. But that’s a whole ‘nuther post! And you better believe it involves the domains of public health, communications theory, psychology, sociology and economics — to name a few!

  • karen3

    How about patients get to be human.  Why when I feel crappy do I have to massage the egos constantly of a bunch of already over-egoed so called professionals?  One of the absolutely worst things about being chronically ill is the constant need to be a toady to the doctor, his staff, the pharmacist, the lab tech and every other minor dictator in the health care industry.  It wears on you to the point that having to deal with the endless need to assure docs that “yes I really love you” become a serious disincentive to care.  All I want is my refills and to get out of there without a lecture. Send the doctor thank you notes when I struggle to be able to get groceries, when I can hardly keep my house clean? I bet you think I need to bake them brownies when I am too tired to make a salad or wash a glass. Are you serious????

    Maybe you need to do some interviews on the reality of being a chronically ill patient.

    • Martine Ehrenclou

      I’ve been a chronically ill patient for a year and a half. I had chronic pain for a year and a half and I do understand and I did interview chronically ill patients. I do understand your frustration and you shouldn’t have to assure docs that you really love them. You can either employ the strategies and maximize your care or not. It’s your choice. I understand that suffering makes it harder to be polite and respectful at all times because you don’t feel well. These are simply diplomatic suggestions to help you, the patient, get more of what you want. I sincerely hope you feel better. 

  • katseye1969

    I think it’s important to remember that docs are human beings. My team does a lot for me. I try to always send them goodies for Christmas. I have no motive for this. It’s just the right thing to do. I care about people and when my team has a health issue or something significant impacts their life, I accknowelge it. It’s the right thing to do as a human being. I think sometimes patients forget that doctors are human brings. They have lives outside of the hospital and few patients stop to thank them for all that they do. How would you feel if you worked all if the time and no one ever took the time to appriciate your efforts?

    • Martine Ehrenclou

      Love hearing this. Keep up using your strategies

  • davemills555

    When I go to a lab for my blood work, I usually ask them to send me a copy. They always refuse and tell me that I must have the doctor’s permission. Huh? What? I pay for these tests, right? So, why can’t I get a copy of the results regardless of what my doctor says? Consumers keep being told that we need to be more involved in our health care. Then, in the very next breath, we are denied access to our own medical records. Who do these prima donnas think they are? Who made them so special? Will someone please explain this to me? 

    • Martine Ehrenclou

      You just have to know the strategies to get what you want. Ask your doctor for a copy of your blood work. Call and leave a message, send a fax or email. 

  • Diane

    Great article. 
    Really, this is all about basic manners. My one golden rule to my children which I feel encompasses the whole of society – “BE NICE”. IF you are nice – it means you are patient, kind, polite, thankful, have respect, use manners, thoughtful, etc. (and as stated above, you should be nice to yourself and respect yourself and be involved with your own care) It should apply to doctors, patients, the garbage man, the homeowner, family members, politicians, little old church ladies, everyone. right? I have recently seen a ton of doctors and have found that even the busiest of them have been quite “human”. 
     For sFord48, there are plenty of folks out there in the world with issues such as autism, etc who will never have the same social skills as the general population and you can’t expect everyone (including those in health professions) to always understand. But in general, obviously, the world would be a better place if these 2 little words were tucked in the back of our brains.

    When my PCP worked hard for me even though he hadn’t actually seen me for one on one visits a couple summers ago, I sent him and his nurse thank you notes near the end of a long health problem. He had been there for me many times in the preceeding years and I had gotten to know him well and he deserved that thank you note more than I can say (as did the nurse who had to make many phone calls to me for about 6 months!) And he continues to be an amazing doctor. My husband and I make my children send thank you notes for such simple things as the great spring break they just spent with their grandparents. I remember to send them to supervisors at temp locations when I leave after an extended stay, especially if I’ve enjoyed my time there. All simple manners and it makes a nice impression. Another 2 word phrase that makes the world a better place… Thank you. 

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