Secrets to a Good Doctor-Patient Relationship
Get advice from five people with arthritis and their doctors about what makes their relationship work.
Dozens of studies show that patients have better health outcomes when their physicians are effective, empathic communicators. “Being able to talk to your doctor builds trust. And when you trust your doctor, you’re more likely to follow their instructions. That markedly increases your odds of having a good outcome,” says Allan Hamilton, MD, executive director of the Arizona Simulation Technology and Education Center, in Tucson.
The trouble is, it can be difficult for physicians to implement their communication skills, says Catherine Lucey, MD, Vice Dean for Education at University of California, San Francisco.
“Every doctor goes to medical school with the intent of helping people, and I think almost every doctor wakes up in the morning with that same level of commitment,” says Dr. Lucey. “But unfortunately, our current medical system poses many barriers that prevent physicians from providing the care they intend to.”
Chief among communication barriers, says Dr. Lucey, is a lack of time. Patients feel better if doctors aren’t in a rush – and when patients have more time, but, she says, “Doctors have to see dozens of patients in a single day, and if one takes more time than he or she allotted, that cuts down on the face-time the doctor has with her next patients.”
We spoke to five inspiring people with arthritis and the amazing physicians who’ve used positive communication to make a difference in their health.
Lucille Braha and Norman Gaylis, MD
“Not everyone likes a doctor as proactive as I am – but Lucille and I really complement each other. She likes that I’ve made it my mission to help her stay healthy, no matter what it takes. And she’s really a model patient, in that she realizes that RA is a lifelong disease that requires patience and a long-term commitment. Managing RA means many doctor’s visits, blood tests, injections and medications, but patients who understand that and make it a priority and a goal, as Lucille does, tend to have the best outcomes.”
Ken Brisbane and Christian Rhea, DO
“I find it satisfying to engage in my patients’ lives. More importantly, as Ken points out, learning whether someone can do things like pick up his grandchild, play a round of golf or work out gives me crucial information about whether the treatment is working. Plus, there’s nothing to be gained by scolding patients if they’re not taking their meds or making other healthy changes. I’m a physician, not a babysitter. The doctor and patient have to work together as a team, and Ken and I do just that.”
Marian Shelton and Alex Bodenstab, MD
“Much of Marian’s success with her knee replacements is thanks to her patience. Her replacements took a little longer than average to heal, and there were times during her post-op recovery that she felt frustrated – and rightfully so. Even though we’ve come a long way in joint replacement surgery, it’s still hard on the body and can be painful. And yet Marian was willing to persevere. She worked tirelessly with her physical therapists and me to get to a good, functioning level and in the end she had the best outcome possible.”
LaRita B. Jacobs and Susan Zito, DO, MPH
“If only more patients were like LaRita. Each time she comes to my office, we sit and have an intelligent, thoughtful conversation about her condition. That’s wonderful, because the more you know about your disease, the easier it is to understand how treatment works, which means you’re much more likely to stick with it. I really believe that informed patients do better overall. They feel like partners, rather than passive participants in their disease, so they ask questions, notice and tell their doctors when something’s amiss, and take more action to improve their health.”
Lori Stoltz and Eric Matteson, MD
“Lori is a wonderful person with a severe disease, and I really admire her willingness to make her health a priority. Our doctor-patient relationship works well because from day one, we’ve both been very open to ideas about her treatment. Lori has a lot of interest in alternative therapies. Some physicians have a jaundiced view of things like herbal supplements and acupuncture, but it’s called ‘complementary medicine’ for a reason – research shows that it can work alongside and even improve a traditional regime.”
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