What’s so special about a relationship with your doctor?

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Dr. Joseph Berg is a family medicine physician at the Upland Hills Hleath Mount Horeb clinic. As a Mount Horeb resident, Dr. Berg enjoys making a difference for others in his community. His focus is to treat patients as people and neighbors, not numbers or data, and he enjoys caring for newborn, adolescent, adult, and geriatric patients.

When we think of the most important relationships in life we think of strong personal relationships: the relationship with our parents, with our spouse, with our children, or with our close friends.

The professional relationship that we have with our doctor can be almost as important! The doctor-patient relationship is the absolute cornerstone of patient care and has been studied extensively since the times of Hippocrates. It is hard to fully explain its importance but let’s use the medical interview as a model. In very simple terms, the medical interview includes gathering information, developing a treatment plan, and ensuring adherence to that plan. The doctor-patient relationship is a critical piece of every step of the process.

Step 1: Full Disclosure

In the first part of a medical interview, the doctor gathers information so that they can make a complete and accurate diagnosis. This requires full, active participation from the patient. If the relationship is not strong, he/she may withhold a key piece of information. It may be that the patient is embarrassed, anxious, nervous, or simply doesn’t trust his or her provider.

For example, hepatitis C is a viral illness that effects the liver. It is passed from person to person through the blood, so is more common in IV drug users or former users. In recent years, treatments have become available that can completely cure this disease, preventing liver failure or liver cancer. If a patient does not tell his doctor that he used to use illegal drugs because of a poor doctor-patient relationship, a crucial screening test that could prevent cancer could be missed.

Step 2: We’re in this together!

After the information has been gathered, the doctor makes a diagnosis and develops a treatment plan with the patient. Once a diagnosis is established the treatment plan must be something acceptable to both the doctor and the patient–it is a shared decision. Without a good relationship, a poor decision about treatment can be made!

For example, a complaint of chest pain is complicated and possibly represents a life threatening condition. Chest pain can be caused by bad heartburn, muscle pain, or, most notably, a heart attack. If a doctor doesn’t have a good relationship with a patient, he may assume that the patient’s symptoms aren’t severe or that the the risk of a heart attack is lower than it is. This could lead to a suggestion of an antacid or simple pain reliever when work up for a heart attack is needed.

Step 3: Follow Through

Finally, once a diagnosis and treatment plan are established, the doctor must try to ensure that the patient will follow through with the plan they decided on. What is the point of a plan if the patient is not willing to go through with it!? The doctor-patient relationship is critical in this step as well. If the patient does not trust the doctor, is not confident in the doctor’s skill, feels that they weren’t part of the decision, or if they are just unsure about the doctor, they are less likely to follow the treatment plan.
Without a strong doctor-patient relationship, it can very difficult to get the best care. The doctor may have trouble gathering all the needed information during a visit. The doctor may also be less able to make an accurate diagnosis and well thought out treatment plan. Lastly, the doctor or the patient may not feel confident in the treatment plan and may be less likely to follow it. Good relationships aren’t only important in a person’s personal life, it could mean a real difference in your health.

These are all great reasons to establish a relationship with a primary care provider. Upland Hills Health has family medicine/primary care clinics in Highland, Montfort, Mount Horeb and Spring Green. You can begin your search for a provider at https://www.uplandhillshealth.org/our-providers/. Remember, we are very open to meeting you in an informal, no-charge “interview” appointment to help you decide if we are the right provider for you.