By Doug Murphy Jr., MD
You have likely heard this before: As a patient, being your own advocate is an important step in taking control of your healthcare. While being proactive is definitely a plus, it’s also essential patients establish genuine, positive relationships with their primary care physician or family doctor to help ensure they receive high-quality care.
A trusting relationship between patient and physician can be a difference maker in your long-term health – and there is data to back it up. One group of researchers found that patients “reported more beneficial health behaviors, less symptoms and higher quality of life” and were “more satisfied with treatment” when they had a high level of trust in their health care professional.
The combination of being your own advocate and having trust in your doctor will go a long way in helping you stay healthy. Here are three actionable steps you can take to help make that happens:
1. You can (and should) interview your healthcare professional
Choosing a primary care or family physician is one of the most important decisions you will make in your adult life. That is why it is crucial that you have a candid conversation with your doctor, and if possible before your first appointment.
Use this initial discussion to learn about your doctor’s qualifications and how they plan to work with you. Ask questions such as:
● Are you board certified and if so in what specialty?
● On average, how much time can I spend with you during each visit?
● Will I see you when on my visit or will I be handed off to someone else?
That first meeting will help determine if you can trust the physician to provide the quality of care you need – and that you are comfortable with the personalized style in which the doctor provides that care.
One final observation about this point: You should always insist on having a physician lead your care team. Whether seen or unseen, it is critically important to know your care is being led by a board-certified physician.
2. The more empowered you feel, the better care you will receive
Building trust requires that a patient and physician have honest, open discussions. An increasing number of studies have shown that effective communication can lead to positive health outcomes because patients better understand recommended healthcare regimens or treatment plans and, more importantly, adhere to them.
As a physician, I welcome any questions my patients ask. The answers help my patients gain confidence in the care or treatment plan my team and I recommend. These talks also provide an opportunity for patients to open up about their life and health so our team of nurses, assistants and other non-physician practitioners can help eliminate or reduce barriers that may inhibit healthy lifestyles.
3. Wellness visits are just as important as sick visits
Regular check-ups are vital to staying healthy. Make sure to see your primary care or family physician at least once a year, even if you are not sick. If you are healthy, turn your annual check-up into a wellness visit and think of it as a form of preventative care.
Wellness visits are an ideal time to continue being an advocate for your health. Use the visit to ask your doctor about recommendations to improve your health. Talk about your diet, the amount of exercise you are getting and any stressors in your life. This is also a great time to have lab tests done to check on your cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes risk, and to schedule exams or additional blood tests for cancer and other conditions.
If you have ongoing health issues, history of health risks or serious chronic illnesses, then schedule more frequent check-ins during the year. These visits will help your doctor monitor how your health has changed – which in turn will help increase the possibility of early detection of negative health conditions so you receive the right treatment quickly and avoid complications.
Here’s the bottom line: Receiving high-quality healthcare starts with feeling empowered to ask for it and by building an honest relationship with your doctor. Seeing a physician regularly and having trust in their care plan will help you live a longer, healthier life.
Douglas Murphy Jr., MD is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist who has served the Ocala, Florida community in private practice for 40 years. Dr. Murphy is also president of the Florida Medical Association. He earned his medical degree from the University of South Florida College of Medicine and completed residency training in obstetrics and gynecology at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Murphy practices medicine at Ocala Gynecology, affiliated with Florida Woman Care.