Healthy Living patient-doctor relationship Positive Change Positive Potential Relationships

What Doctors Really Think; Improving the Patient-Doctor Relationship

When dealing with doctors, many patients feel like they are treated like numbers or diseases. We all want to be seen and treated as complete individuals.

You might be surprised to hear that with very few exceptions, my medical colleagues invariably put the patient first. The individual is the focus of every clinical encounter. It is the priority of all that we do – in our daily work, at our meetings, on rounds and in lectures.

Doctors do care about your wellbeing but they don’t always show it.

Have you ever felt unappreciated in a relationship then realized that you are valued in different ways?

It’s as if men and women are from Earth and doctors are from another planet.

The truth is we start off as (and remain very fallible) human beings who are abducted and converted by an alien culture (a.k.a. medical school). Some of us have more difficulty reconnecting with our own humanity and remembering what it’s like to be a patient.

Fortunately, medical schools have been evolving over recent years with greater emphasis on communication and patient-centredness.

In upcoming posts in this series, you’ll learn about promising new initiatives to help physicians relate better to their patients. It’s something we all value. A solid patient-doctor relationship facilitates the therapeutic alliance needed to ensure the best clinical outcomes and positive experiences for both you and your physician.

This is a cornerstone of the new Burnaby Division of Family Practice, a non-profit association of the city’s family physicians. Our vision for the Burnaby community: patients and physicians achieving health and happiness.

But to improve any relationship, both sides must work together. We need your feedback. Send your comments and suggestions to me at or leave a comment on this page.

What do you like? What don’t you like? How can we do it better?

Dr. Davidicus Wong is Chair of the Burnaby Division of Family Practice. You can find his Positive Potential Medicine podcasts at

By Davidicus Wong

I am a family physician. I write a weekly newspaper column, Healthwise for the Vancouver Courier, Burnaby Now, Royal City Record and Richmond News.

4 replies on “What Doctors Really Think; Improving the Patient-Doctor Relationship”

Establish a relationlship in which each person is of equal value. Agree from the beginning whether the patient prefers to be addressed by first name or last name (that includes the receptionist and the doctor)–after that each side should follow the agreed protocol. Too many doctor-patient relationships are like a father-child or teacher-student one, . That puts pressure on the doctor to be “the boss”, or even “god”, rather than part of a health team, with the patient at the centre. Likewise, the patient will be less likely to withhold information, or ask questions where appropriate, if he/she feels comfortable in the relationship..

I agree that mutual respect and comfort are essential to this professional relationship. I let my patients call me by my first name or Dr. (whichever is most comfortable for them). I hope no doctor today has delusions of being “god”. Don’t hesitate to tell physicians if they are calling you by the wrong name or if you would like to addressed in another way.

I don’t like it when a doctors says “NO!” you can’t have a heart test when three EKGs in a row have shown “serious” heart problems. It makes me angry every time I see another ad on TV warning women that so many die of heart attacks or strokes! The only reason this is so is because doctors refuse to take women seriously even when they have such irregular heartbeats that they can’t sleep at night.

What is even more upsetting is when doctors won’t tell you “why” they’re saying no. Don’t they understand that when they don’t explain that maybe they feel those tests might be dangerous or whatever, the patient sees them as just being cruel and possibly even dangerous silent killers who may have signed up for medicine just for the purpose of “deliberately killing patients?”

Because their symptoms may not always follow the classical pattern of squeezing chest pain radiating into the neck or arm, many women – and patients with diabetes – may have ischemic heart disease that is not recognized and investigated as quickly.
It’s important for doctors to maintain “a high index of suspicion” (Doctortalk for “keep this in mind and ensure that we rule this out”) and most importantly, address the patient’s concerns.
Understanding goes both ways. Doctors must work to understand the patient’s experience of health and illness. We must also ensure that the patient understands our thought processes and why we would make particular recommendations.
Thanks for your comments, Susan.

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