Doctor-Patient Trust: How to Find It, How to Build It

Tuesday, June 29, 2010 - 06:54 AM

Trust isn’t just a warm and fuzzy feeling – it can result in serious health benefits. Patients who trust their doctor are more likely to take their medication, more likely to go in for follow-up care, and more likely to have their health needs met. So how do you find a doctor you can trust?

First, you simply have to find a doctor. Visit a site like ZocDoc, which helps you find doctors on your plan, in your area, and who have free appointments when you need them. Sites like this and Yelp both offer doctor recommendations, which can help you get a sense for how busy the office is, how much time doctors spend with patients, and how helpful the other office staff can be in helping patients deal with health issues.

Once you find a doctor, the trick is to turn the relationship into a trusting one, rather than trying to shop around until you find someone you “click” with.  If you have the time and resources to doctor shop, go ahead – but in our current health system, it may be easier to turn the doctor you have into the doctor you want.

The most important thing is to tell the truth. 30 percent of patients lie to their doctors about diet and exercise, while 40 percent lie about following doctors orders. Set the right tone with your doctor by being completely honest about your symptoms, habits, and medications, including supplements and herbal treatments.

Communication is key: the more specific you are with your doctor, the better his or her advice, the more likely you are to build a mutual level of trust. This site offers several recommendations for improving the doctor-patient relationship, including tips for talking to your doctor more effectively. It offers specific examples for how talk about the symptoms that affect your day to day life: "I’ve been sleeping downstairs because I’m too weary to climb the stairs" rather than generalizations like “I’m exhausted”.

That honesty should go both ways – if you tell the doctor the truth, expect that he or she will take time to explain to you their orders and instructions and answer all your questions. Because here’s the secret about those doctors orders – they’re not binding commands. As a patient, you have the final say. Your doctor cannot make you do anything you’re not comfortable with, whether it’s stepping on the scale or taking a different medication.  So if you don’t feel comfortable with his or her advice, seek a second opinion or ask questions until you get suitable answers.  The American Academy of Family Physicians offers more information on getting answers from your doctor.

Finally, don’t try to replace your doctor with WebMD. The internet has become a fantastic way for people to learn more about their health and a good way to compile useful research and tips (after all, you’re reading this on the web right now). But it’s also full of half-truths, anecdotal evidence, scare tactics and outright fraud. Sites like WebMD are great places to research your diagnosis or learn more about medications, but they can’t replace the one-on-one connections with a doctor. Luckily, a Pew research study from this year shows that people still trust doctors more than the internet.

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