1. Health

How to Repair Your Relationship With Your Doctor

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Updated April 16, 2009

The goal of any patient-doctor relationship should be one of mutual respect and collaboration, working together to achieve your best possible medical outcomes. Most of the time that is exactly what happens. But sometimes the relationship goes awry, and that may require repairing the patient-doctor relationship.

Sometimes the problems are the doctor's fault. From the first meeting, he may have been abrupt, or arrogant, or he simply has a lousy bedside manner. If that's the case, there is nothing to be repaired. It's just the doctor's personality.

However, sometimes the problem is caused by the patient herself. She may have had a good relationship with her doctor for a period of time, but something happened to make her doctor subsequently balk at providing additional care. In that case, she may choose to try to repair her relationship with her doctor.

If this is your circumstance, you'll need to assess whether the problem was caused by you or your doctor. If you caused it, then the steps below will help you work to repair the relationship. If not, if you feel the deteriorated relationship is your doctor's fault, then you'll need to decide whether it's worth repairing, or more to the point, possible to repair.

Further, you may need to ask yourself whether you want to keep being seen and treated by a doctor who is not treating you respectfully. If the relationship goes sour, you may not get the best care. Forbes Magazine reported that "doctors who experience a high number of difficult encounters also reported more adverse outcomes, while another study showed that patients with weak ties to their primary physician were less likely to receive care consistent with established guidelines." Neither is good news.

If you have determined that your relationship with your doctor has deteriorated, and you would like to attempt to repair it, consider the following steps:

  1. Figure out what caused the problem. You may find the reason on this list of doctors' biggest complaints about patients. If it's something that can't be fixed, then move on. You and your doctor will never see eye-to-eye and you won't get the care you need and deserve.

  2. If possible, fix the problem. If it is money-based, you may need to pay your bill. If it is temperament-based, you may need to adjust your attitude. If you are an empowered patient, then you have nothing to fix. If it's simply a matter of how you share your findings about your condition or treatment possibilities, you may want to try a different approach for sharing your research with your doctor. If your doctor is dissatisfied that you are engaged in your care, then you need to find another doctor.

  3. If you have been able to fix the problem, then it's time to make an appointment to apologize. Explain what went wrong, and why you feel your doctor is the best person to help you with your medical situation. Tell her you will do your best to make sure the difficulty does not crop up again. This may or may not get you back in your doctor's good graces. Your doctor's reaction will help you decide whether the relationship will improve enough to ensure you'll get the care you need.

  4. If you are unable to fix the problem or smooth out the relationship with your doctor, or if the repair process seems to have produced lip service only from the doctor and you have any indication that your relationship will never again be as good as you would like, then it's time to move on. Your efforts will be better spent finding another doctor. Remember, doctors are professionals, yes, but they are people, too. While most will be able to move on (this is a professional relationship, not a marriage), sometimes that just can't happen. Put your energy into establishing a new, more positive partnership with another doctor.

  5. In all cases, be sure to get copies of your medical records including any records created while under this doctor's care, plus any other doctors he or she has referred you to. You'll need to comb them for possible notations that could be detrimental to your healthcare possibilities in the future, and correct your medical records if you do find information that should not be there.

Please note that no where in this list am I suggesting you be nice, nor passive. Regardless of what made your relationship deteriorate to begin with, being empowered means you are diplomatic, but concise and definite. You must continue to be actively engaged in your care, but you need to do so in a respectful way.

Realistically, this approach may not work. If the relationship is irreparable, you will have to find another doctor. Remember, it's a seller's market. Doctors are in short supply and patients are desperately seeking the professional who can help them.

The best way to prevent a problem in the relationship is not to let one crop up to begin with. Smart patients choose a respectful communicator to start, and respectfully communicate in return.

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Have you been denied medical care, but able to repair your relationship with your doctor? Please share your story with others to help them solve the same problem.

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