The Evolving Patient-Doctor Relationship is as Vital as Ever

January 30, 2017

A lot stands in the way of a strong patient-doctor relationship these days, specifically the cost of care. But physicians must remain committed.

One of the main reasons I went into medicine was because I enjoy taking care of patients and building relationships.  It was a driving force into my decision to go into family medicine.  Over the years, I have developed wonderful relationships with many of my patients and families.  I had the honor of delivering babies for many years of my practice and formed bonds that have lasted for many years.

Watching children grow up and having the privilege of caring for two and three generations of families make coming to work every day worthwhile.

In this new era of medicine, patients are having to make choices about treatments based on costs - some are developing large debts to their physicians - and it has had an incredible impact on the relationship doctors have with their patients.  I try very hard to stay out of discussions of my patient bills, but invariably I get drawn in by my patients or my staff.  I have a wonderful staff that handles patient accounts so that I can spend my time taking care of patients but occasionally I have to get involved.

As such, I have learned about insurance policies than I ever want to know - patients often ask my opinions on which plan to choose, asking to explain their deductibles and discussing medications and cost.  Patients look to me and my staff to help them navigate the confusing world of insurance companies and requirements.  With all the changes, patients who have been used to paying only a copay or nothing don't understand deductibles, so we spend a great deal of time explaining them.

I think it is important for physicians to try to continue to build relationships with patients to generate loyalty.  It makes what we do more meaningful as well as decrease our malpractice risk when better bonds are formed.  With patients changing insurance often, their loyalty becomes more difficult to earn.  Patients are quick to change doctors for the smallest issue or just because of convenience making relationships more challenging.

We have to remember that patients go through difficult times both financially and emotionally and we need to be there for them even in troubled times.  We can be that calming influence in their lives even when make are lives difficult.  Hopefully we can focus on that when dealing with patient's financial and insurance issues.

I plan to continue to connect with my patients and enjoy being part of the lives and helping them to live healthy productive lives.  Hopefully our patients the effort we make despite the time and effort it takes to be a doctor in this changing healthcare environment.