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More Than an Office Visit: Why Patient-Doctor Relationships Matter

For many people, a patient/doctor relationship involves an annual check-up and maybe some occasional visits when cold and flu season arrives. With the carefree days of summer around the corner, a visit to the doctor may be the last thing on our minds. But when we face more significant health challenges, it can mean more regular, intensive monitoring with specialists both in and outside of the hospital. The relationship each patient and his or her caregiver form with the healthcare team is unique and special. The nature of that relationship can also have a significant impact on the healing process. As a heart attack survivor, heart transplant recipient, leg amputee, and two-time cancer survivor, I’ve seen my share of medical specialists over the past 14 years. Here are some of the tips I’ve learned along the way.
  • Don’t be afraid to visit the doctor. We know our bodies better than anyone else, and can often tell when something feels off. Sometimes we minimize pain and may be hesitant to go to a doctor on the chance that nothing is wrong. In extreme cases, a visit to the doctor could make the difference between life or death in discovering an underlying problem.
  • Be honest with your doctor. Aside from sharing unusual symptoms, there may be hesitancy in sharing certain details about your medical history or personal life that may be relevant to the medical situation you’re coping with. Medical teams are there to help you, not judge you. Withholding information can put you in danger, and your health is not worth that risk.
  • Be prepared. A visit to the doctor can feel overwhelming, especially when there’s worry involved. Write down a list of questions ahead of time so that you don’t forget anything. It’s also good to bring someone in the room with you whom you trust. He/she can ask additional questions you might not have thought of and help you remember the information if there’s a lot to process.
  • Talk to your doctor about your goals. Your life may feel like it’s suddenly being put on hold when you’re faced with a health challenge. Talk to your doctor and/or social worker about any concerns you have with regard to work, school, family, etc. Doctors know that you’re a person, not just a patient. Tell them about upcoming events that are important to you, and talk to them about treatment scheduling to see if any adjustments are possible. Short-term and long-term goals are great ways to stay motivated and remind you of the life you’re working towards returning to full time.
  • Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. Doctors recognize that the health landscape can be new and difficult territory to navigate and understand. If you still have questions or want a means of comparison, it may be helpful to get a second opinion from another doctor. Your health is at stake, so it’s important that you feel comfortable and trust your instincts.

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The author and family with her heart transplant surgeon, Dr. Furukawa

The author and family with her heart transplant surgeon, Dr. Furukawa