I've often listened to patients vent about their doctors. They say they leave appointments feeling rushed, overlooked and frustrated. But building a solid relationship with your physician is easier than you might think. These simple strategies can help.

Rethink How You Prep for Appointments

I want patients to do their homework, but whenever someone pulls out pages and pages from the Internet, I can't help thinking, Uh-oh. Patients who come in with a sheaf of research often spend their visit cross-checking my advice against their notes rather than developing a meaningful, trusting relationship with me. Think about spending fewer hours online and, instead, use that time to write a list that communicates your values, fears and goals for care. Are you afraid that taking a certain medication that causes drowsiness could jeopardize a potential promotion at work? You might not think that your doctor would care about such a thing, but it's the kind of information we need if we're going to provide you with the most personalized plan of action.

Be the Master of Your Story

"What brings you in?"—the universal appointment icebreaker—sounds like a simple question, but if you're being shuffled from nurse to doctor to specialist, relating the specifics of your medical issue again and again can be exhausting. You may be tempted to omit smaller details (assuming that they must have been documented at some point along the way), but never leave anything out. It's useful to keep a symptom journal, noting when your symptoms started and the characteristics of your pain (dull ache? constant throbbing?). I once saw a teenager who logged every single headache over the course of a month and included all the details she could, from what she'd recently eaten to the time of day the pain occurred. "You're a scientist, and I want you to have the data," she told the neurologist leading her case. Once she gave us the clues we needed, we determined that her migraines were linked to her menstrual cycle, and we were able to take her off several medications she didn't need.

Pump Us with Candy

When I was a medical student, I had a patient whose daughter placed a bowl of sweets near his hospital bed. It was ingenious: The more often doctors stopped in for a treat, the more individual attention the dad received. It's not the candy that matters, but what the gesture represents—it's a symbol of appreciation. Small efforts can go a long way to sweeten your relationship with your physician.


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