One of the most essential components of successful health care is the doctor-patient relationship. This relationship, which places demands on both physician and patient, is the cornerstone of contemporary medical ethics and is considered essential to the delivery of high-quality health care. Medical schools and chiropractic colleges provide entire courses to their students on how to maintain a professional rapport with patients, uphold their dignity, and respect their privacy, and these courses are treated with the same gravity as any of the more technical subjects students are expected to master.
What do Doctors Think?
From the physician's side, a good doctor-patient relationship is defined as providing a number of key elements. One is informed consent, in which the doctor has the responsibility to provide patients with as much detail as possible about their condition and seek their permission before starting treatment. This is the opposite of the paternalistic "doctor knows best" attitude that once permeated medicine. Another key component of a good doctor-patient relationship is shared decision making, in which the physician is expected to provide the patient with information about all of the possible treatment options (including their benefits and risks), and then help the patient to decide which option is most in accord with his or her goals and wishes.
One key component of a good (and effective) doctor-patient relationship is trust, and this works both ways. Physicians have to trust that what patients tell them in response to questions is actually true. At the same time, patients have to have enough trust in their doctors to tell them the truth about their symptoms and lifestyles, even some of the details may be embarrassing.
Interestingly enough, there have been studies that suggest that mutual trust between doctor and patient is essential not only to ensure accurate communication but also to promote the actual outcome of any treatment. Several of these studies have indicated that more positive outcomes are achieved when the patient has a high degree of trust in the physician's ability to heal them, which makes intuitive sense. Even more interestingly, other studies have shown that when doctors have a high degree of trust in their own ability to heal the patient, they are more likely to achieve a positive outcome. In a very real sense, the more that both the physician and the patient are convinced a course of treatment will be successful, the more likely it is that the patient will do well.
What can Patients Do?
Given everything we’ve mentioned about the doctor-patient relationship, one way that you as a patient can help to improve your relationship with your medical doctor or chiropractor is to demand more from them. If your doctor explains something to you but not clearly enough for you to completely understand your condition and your possible treatment options, don't just sit there and pretend to understand. Ask questions! Patient education is an essential part of effective healthcare, but remember that you share the responsibility for obtaining that education. If something is not clear to you, ask your doctor to explain it.
Remember that this works both ways. If your doctor asks you questions about your day-to-day lifestyle that you're embarrassed to answer (perhaps about your use of alcohol or drugs, or about your sex life), answer honestly anyway. Don't claim to exercise three times a week if you don't exercise at all, and don't claim that you don't smoke if you do. Your doctor needs accurate information to give you the best healthcare, and part of your responsibility in the doctor-patient relationship is to provide it. Good healthcare is a partnership between doctor and patient. Great health care is when that partnership is based on a high degree of mutual respect and trust.