What kind of patient-doctor relationship do you have?

I’ve written before about the patient’s role in creating a good relationship with their doctor: Be on time for your appointments; write down your questions and concerns; don’t waste time on chitchat; bring someone with you; be honest about your health habits, good and bad; and if you don’t understand something, keep asking until you do.

But a lot of the responsibility for a good patient-doctor relationship lies with the physician; after all, they’re the ones with the greater education, knowledge and experience.

Back in 1956, two doctors, Theodore Szasz and Marc Hollender, described three types of doctor-patient relationships. Depending on your situation, you probably have one or more of these:

• Active-passive, which they compared to a parent-child relationship, when the physician is acting upon the patient (useful in emergency and trauma situations).

• Guidance-cooperation, a sort of parent-adolescent relationship, in which the physician tells the patient what to do and the patient complies.

• Mutual participation, a relationship between two adults in which the physician helps the patient help themselves.

In this era of patient-centered care, there’s a clear preference for the mutual participation model. Health care providers who provide more than just competent care, who bring empathy, open communication, active listening and understanding into the examination room, are more likely to have satisfied patients.

Unfortunately, many aspects of our current health care system work against the patient-doctor relationship.

There never seems to be enough time for a doctor to really talk with a patient and develop that relationship. Administrative hurdles (problems getting an appointment, for example) hurt the relationship. Sometimes both patients and doctors make assumptions about one another’s cultures or backgrounds that may damage patient trust.

How many times will you put up with such roadblocks before you start looking for another doctor? A recent survey found that almost half of the respondents will give their doctor or their staff only two chances to get things right before looking elsewhere.

Why is this even important? Because a good patient-doctor relationship can lead to better health outcomes for you. If your doctor has worked to establish mutual understanding and trust, you are much more likely to divulge information needed for an accurate diagnosis. You may also be more willing to adhere to a treatment plan. A recent survey by Tebra, a health care marketing firm, found that 87% of respondents believe that a strong and positive patient-doctor relationship has a positive impact on their patient journey.

Your relationship with your primary care provider is particularly important because it’s likely you will access other health care providers through them. Here are five signs that your doctor is invested in their relationship with you.

Active communication

In my experience as a private patient advocate, the cause of a poor patient-doctor relationship usually boils down to one thing: communication — either miscommunication or lack of communication. Does your doctor:

• Listen without interrupting?

• Try to understand your perspective?

• Validate your concerns?

• Answer your questions?

• Solicit information about what’s going on in your life?

• Express empathy and compassion?

These behaviors on the part of your doctor take your relationship beyond the merely clinical.

Person-centered care

Person-centered care focuses on individuals and their particular health care needs. Clinicians are there to inform, advise and provide patient support, but it is ultimately up to individuals to determine their course of action. Does your doctor present all available options and alternatives for treatment and solicit your input in the decision-making?

No billing surprises

No one likes an unexpected bill, which causes anxiety and frustration as we try to manage our health care costs. Does your doctor’s administrative staff provide clear, honest and transparent billing information? This goes a long way toward building your confidence and trust in the practice.

Efficient scheduling

Efficient scheduling and office procedures respect your time. Does your doctor offer new patient forms online, online appointment setting and flexible appointment options? Does the office minimize your wait times — and if there’s going to be a delay — do they keep you informed?

Multiple touchpoints

Is your doctor’s practice keeping pace with technology? Do they send text notifications and reminders of appointments? Can you access a patient portal to check your records and ask a question? Do you get follow-up phone calls after a surgical procedure or to keep tabs on a chronic condition?

If you experience this kind of relationship with your doctor, you’re more likely to stick with that doctor, follow their advice as to lifestyle changes and adhere to their prescribed treatments. An advocate can always help you find a new physician, but remember to make sure that you’re doing your part to make the relationship work.

• Teri Dreher is a board-certified patient advocate. A critical care nurse for 30+ years, she is founder of NShore Patient Advocates ( Her book, “How to Be a Healthcare Advocate for Yourself & Your Loved Ones,” is available on Amazon. She is offering a free phone consultation to Daily Herald readers; call her at (312) 788-2640 or email

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