Building a Strong Doctor-Patient Bond

Tuesday, 09 Jul 2013 11:01 AM

By Ronni Gordon

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Helping your doctor get to know you and getting to know your doctor are important components of a successful doctor-patient relationship.
I'm not talking about probing into your doctor’s life, which would be totally inappropriate. Rather I mean that during regular appointments when you're not in crisis mode, you can ask some simple questions that help take the edge off "white coat anxiety."
For example, when I first met the surgeon who is going to excise a lesion on my kidney later this month, he seemed so reserved that I assumed he was the all-business stereotypical surgeon type.
On our second meeting, when asking me about the conditions I would return to at home (who would be home, whether there are stairs, etc.), he asked me if I had a dog, to which I replied that I had a chocolate Labrador retriever.
Curious, I asked him if he had a dog. He rolled his chair over to the computer and pulled up photos of the Vizslas his wife breeds. (Vizslas are medium-sized Hungarian sporting dogs.) He pointed to one and said, "I ran 1500 miles with this one."
"Not all at once, I hope," I replied.
He said no, of course not, but he does run long distances as an ultra-marathoner. Well, I thought, anyone who loves dogs and running has got to do a good job on my surgery. In all seriousness, though, I feel more comfortable knowing we have a connection.
I had forgotten to ask how many days I would be in the hospital. When I wrote him about it, I included a photo of my dog, Maddie, "in action," lying on her bed with a stuffed bear. "Beautiful lab," he wrote. He said I will be hospitalized for five days, and then I will be done with the whole thing.
Conversely, it’s important for your doctor to learn about you as a person and not just as a patient so that you can work together in making decisions about your care.
First things first, though. The National Cancer Institute suggests asking the following questions when newly diagnosed. 
  • Can you explain my test results to me? Will I need more tests before treatment begins?
  • What is the stage of my cancer? Has my cancer spread to other areas of my body?
  • What is my chance of recovery?
  • How will cancer and treatment affect my body?
  • How do I decide where to go for treatment?
  • Will you help me find a doctor to give me a second opinion?
  • How will my daily activities, such as work or school, change?
  • How can I get help if I feel anxious or upset?
  • What costs will my insurance cover? Who can answer my questions about how to pay for treatment?
  • How can I get help with financial and legal issues (for example, getting financial assistance, preparing a will or an advance directive)?
  • How can I get help with my emotional and spiritual needs? 
Don’t be afraid to ask questions you may consider silly. The doctor is there to help you, not to judge you.
I asked, "Do you have Ativan?"
I had become acquainted with the anti-anxiety drug while waiting for the results of tests to determine if I had leukemia.
"Yes," my doctor said. "Big bottles of it."
I felt better already.
I brought a blue spiral notebook to each appointment, writing down the answers to some of my questions. I also wrote down dates of hospitalizations, notes about people I would need to meet, upcoming tests, types of chemotherapy and other drugs given, books that my social worker recommended, and more.
It helps to have a special book because you might not remember everything you hear.

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