How to Help Your Physician Help You


Among the most important decisions you can make affecting your health is who is going to be your primary care physician and how you can best interact with him or her. Depending on the stage of your life, this can vary from a family physician, obstetrician/gynecologist, pediatrician, internist or geriatrician. Having someone whom you trust and who knows you is as important as caring for yourself by exercising and following good preventive practices.

What makes for a good relationship between a patient and a physician?

The most important factors are communication, consideration, and collaboration in answering the following three concerns with each health care issue: "What do I have, what can I do about this problem, and what is going to happen to me?" These critical questions should be addressed and answered, if possible, during each encounter.

Typically, a physician has several methods for making a diagnosis. The first and most important is the patient's medical history, followed by a thorough physical examination, lab and/or radiology test results, and a trial of medicines. Rarely, watchful waiting is needed if all else is inconclusive. Clearly, a patient's understanding of his or her medical history, and being able to share this information with the physician is the most important starting point.

Currently, most patient and physician encounters are limited by time. This reality makes rapid, cogent understanding even more important. Being prepared with a list of symptoms, questions, or an outline of recent events before a visit can help tremendously. Having a brief, pertinent, written record to follow is similar to having an agenda for a meeting—both make for better value. Life is an open book test and certainly everyone involved in the process of health care wants every episode to go well.

The information age, with its easy access to data on the internet, has enhanced the opportunity to improve care. Previously, physicians had the majority of knowledge about illness. Currently, about 75 percent of all patients are on the internet at some time during a health care encounter, in order to find a physician, understand a diagnosis, or research a treatment. The concept of sharing information between patient and physician is relatively new; nevertheless it can be very effective when done collaboratively.

All of the above add value to your health care. However, they also involve an investment. Understanding your own medical history, sharing this with your physician without wasting time, and using other sources to obtain information add up to a better outcome for you as a patient.

Being an active participant does make a difference in your health. Remember: good health is not a spectator sport.

Dr. Allen Weiss, CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System, is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

NCH Healthcare System

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Timely article. I seem to disconnect the minute I enter the clinic. No matter how much pain I'm in (head, stomache, etc...), by the time I see the doctor, I no longer feel the pain or it lessened dramatically from an 8 (can barely think) to a measly 2. Then when I'm recounting my problem, I feel such a hypocrite! Hence by the time they found out I have an ovarian cyst - it was 4cm. Because I have a high tolerance for pain, when I told the doctor that the pain is so bad - it feels like there's an anvil inside pressing down. Because I'm not whimpering or crying in pain, the words don't convey how much pain I'm in. By the time I can barely walk, the cysts were so big, the ER doctor thought I was pregnant! They wanted to do immediate surgery to take out the cysts.

I agree with this article. I soooo agree with it. I'm changing doctors again because I've noticed my doctor is not hearing what I'm saying. I'm going to write those 'answering the following three concerns with each health care issue'. And try to list my health issues and let the new doctor figure out if most or all is related to my neck/shoulder/head pains.

I do timidly question the doctor but he always answers so firmly his diagnosis. I leave the clinic knowing it was another wasted visit in which another bottle of Motrin was prescribed for my pain. Treating the symptoms and not the cause.

I like this article. Made me feel that I'm not a hypochondriac - but just the doctor and I are not communicating correctly with each other.
Everybody's problems tend to vanish when they come in to the office, just like when you pull in to the garage for the mechanic to see or hear what's going on with your car. I make a point to joke about it to let my patients know I realize that happens a lot. And you never know how to state exactly what's going on in terms that convey how serious it is when it happens without sounding melodramatic, hypochondriac, or a drug-seeker. Cell phone videos are one way to help with this process, as long as your doc is open to them. For our part, we need to be open to "hidden" communications or people using certain words in ways we would not use them. It is not always easy to figure out what is really meant when someone tells you something that you can't see or feel for yourself.

I've had to switch docs myself, and the best one I ever had was one who shared my ailment and understood (migraines) but you're not going to be able to find that for everything.
I've always found my doctor easy to talk to so I was surprised that she wants me to go on pills forever for blood pressure that gets moderately high occasionally but also very low at times. At this time I was sick with cold viruses for about four months on and off and thought this had something to do with my erratic BP. I want to do a lifestyle program and if I take pills, I don't want to take them for the rest of my life.

I have always avoided drugs, street or otherwise, and alcohol because I grew up being told I was "too sensitive" and thought my brain was somehow delicate and needed extra protection. And hearing that benzodiazepines are linked to a 50% increase in Alzheimers doesn't increase my confidence in drugs.

I don't know what to do about my doctor. I have always liked her but I am avoiding her because of this pill issue. Maybe I am her only patient to read about benzodiazepines. Maybe I need a new doctor, but how does one find one without the pill fixation? Probably they are as rare as I am with my purist attitude about drugs. By the way, I will take pills as necessary but taking pills for the rest of my life is something quite different and I think needs careful consideration,