How to Have an Open, Honest Relationship With Your Doctor

Young man in doctor office
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Being less-than-honest with your doctor can have dire consequences. 

“Doctors are trying to do the right thing, but patients have to speak up about their own individual values and lifestyle needs because everyone is different,” says Dale Vidal, M.D., director of The Center for Informed Choice and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. “If you don’t speak up, doctors will make assumptions based on their own experiences and perceptions of what you might want—and their approach may not be the best fit for you.”

Bottom line: You need to find the right doctor for you

Vidal, along with Lisa Iezzoni, M.D., professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School and director of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, have indicated six ways you can forge a strong, honest relationship with your doctor. 

1. Be open

“Having open and honest communication with your physician benefits your health because the more you understand about why something is going to be helpful—such as taking a certain medication—the more motivated you’ll be to make those lifestyle changes,” says Iezzoni. So don’t hide your habit of downing a six-pack of beer in one sitting from your doctor, or that you’re hooked on Tylenol PM. It’s better to tell all for the best possible health outcome.

2. Know what you want

“Don’t assume your physician knows what you want,” says Iezzoni. “There are some patients who don’t want to know everything and would rather their doctor simply tell them what to do. But many patients want to make their own treatment choices, so tell your doctor if you want him or her to be very frank and open with you, and if you’d like to play an active role in the decision making.”

3. Educate yourself

“I’m a big believer in patients reviewing information about your treatment decisions before your appointment,” says Vidal. She suggests having a starting point discussion with your doctor by asking for recommendations on the best resources for your diagnosis. “This helps arm you with knowledge about your condition so you can have a more informed conversation with your doctor in terms of what will work best for you,” says Vidal.

4. Have a face-to-face

Schedule a time to talk in person rather than over the phone or email. “It’s much easier to know if someone is being open and frank with you when you’re looking into their eyes,” says Dr. Iezzoni.

5. Write down your questions in advance

PSA scores come back abnormal? Sitting in a hospital or doctor’s office can be nerve wrecking, so it’s easy for your mind to go blank. “Prepare questions in writing in advance so you can present them to your doctor when you meet,” says Vidal. “That way you won’t forget what you want to say.”

6. Speak your mind

“When something doesn’t feel right, I think it’s hard for patients to speak up because they don’t want to contradict their doctors,” says Vidal. It’s important to take charge of your health and voice your opinion because you know your own body better than anyone else. If you don’t understand something about what your doctor said, ask your doctor point blank and be specific. “Maybe you misunderstood the doctor, or the doctor misspoke because he or she was tired, “says Iezzoni. “Doctors are human as well.”

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