How Building Trust With Your Doctor Can Improve Treatment Outcomes


By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder

Originally published by Sixty and Me

I come from a family of medical professionals. So, it’s no surprise that my belief and trust in the medical profession, and those who practice it, has always been high.

As a result, it may have been a little easier for me to see the human side of physicians. However, many, if not most, of our generation grew up believing that the doctors we saw on television shows such as Medical Center, Dr. Kildare and Marcus Welby, M.D. were the norm.

The Authority Behind the M.D.

They were authority figures to be listened to, obeyed, respected and never questioned. They knew best and always had our best interests at heart. We were to trust them unconditionally, even if that trust occasionally made us uncomfortable or was misplaced.

In fact, I remember a family friend once wondering aloud if her doctor – who had been treating her for 30 years – was giving her the best advice. When I suggested she question him about it, her response was, “I would never do that, he’s the doctor and I would not want to offend him.”

While trust is a critical element in every type of relationship, it is especially important in the doctor-patient relationship. When there is mutual trust, you feel more comfortable being open and honest with your doctor, which translates into better treatment plans and better treatment outcomes.

But should there be a limit to the amount of trust you place in your doctor? Should you ever question what your doctor tells you? The answer to both questions is a resounding “yes.”

Trust Should Not Be Blind

Luckily for us and for our families, this type of unquestioning obedience and belief in physicians is changing, and we boomers can, in many ways, take some credit for this. It’s no secret that we’re a lot different than our parents and our grandparents.

We tend to be better informed, more assertive and want to play a greater role in our healthcare. While this is great, it is also tempered by our commitment to a work ethic and world view that makes us want to stay with our doctor for all our medical needs.

We also tend to base a lot of our healthcare decisions on what we hear from people we trust – whether their opinions are truly best for us or not. Our responsibility to manage the healthcare of our aging parents also has contributed to our taking a more proactive role in healthcare decisions and treatments.

This change in our approach to healthcare in general requires a change in how we view the trust we place in our physicians.

I am not advocating, in any way, that we should stop trusting our physicians. This would be counterproductive and could both hurt our relationship with our doctors as well as negatively impact the outcome of any healthcare treatments we may need.

What I am saying is that trust in any person or institution should never be ‘blind.’ That would be just plain foolish.

Create a Trust Partnership with Your Doctor

The approach I have taken is one of creating a ‘trust partnership’ that puts my doctor and me on more equal footing when it comes to my healthcare. How can you apply this to your own healthcare?

It’s actually very easy, although it may feel a little uncomfortable at first. Here are some things I have done which you might want to consider:


Read the boring medical studies that pertain to your medical condition. Also read blogs and websites that make a point of using scientific evidence. Ask a statistics-savvy friend to help you interpret the studies.


Your best defense is being educated on the matter. Do your research before your appointment.

Be Prepared for Your Visit

Organize your lab tests and notes from previous doctors. If the doctor has to spend the whole visit figuring out your medical history, you can bet that there won’t be an in-depth analysis on the merits of taking vitamin B12 shots versus gabapentin, for example.

Ask Specific Questions

Specific questions – like, “Do patients ever have long-term side effects from CT scan dye?” or “At my age, what are the possible risks of having general anesthesia?” – will convey your concerns more clearly and open up a discussion, as opposed to only saying, “I don’t want to do that.”

Instead of saying, “I don’t like prescription medications,” try being more specific, such as, “I’d really like to try taking yoga classes three times per week. If I still feel depressed, I will try the antidepressants.”

Let your doctor know what your plan is and why you’d like to try something else. This keeps the line of communication open.

Calm Down Excited Family Members

While it’s nice to have your spouse or parent there for support, listening to two people talk excitedly at once while trying to diagnose and take notes can be a headache for anyone. Take turns speaking, and give the doctor time to record what you are saying so it gets taken into account.

Take It All in Stride

Your doctor doesn’t want to insult you or brush you off. She’s simply giving a medical opinion. If that opinion flies in the face of everything you believe, seek a second opinion.

Keep Up Your End of the Bargain

Trust, in any relationship, is a two-way street. You can’t expect your doctor to make the effort to gain and keep your trust if you don’t do the same with them. Not doing so will not only erode your mutual trust but can impact your medical care.

The first thing you need to do is be honest with your doctor. A recent study showed that almost half of all Americans routinely decline to tell their physicians the whole truth about their health issues.

When it comes to questions about diet and fitness – two of the things that can most help us prevent or better manage disease – almost a third of all women are not truthful with their doctors.

Their reasons? The top two are embarrassment and a fear of being judged. If these are fears you also have, be honest with your doctor. Odds are, they can help you overcome these feelings.

You also need to follow your doctor’s guidance, especially when it comes to medications and your home-health care regimens. Not doing so may put your health at risk and decrease the amount of trust your doctor has in you.

If you doctor starts questioning everything you tell her, then the physician-patient relationship is on a very slippery slope. Additionally, if you are starting to feel uncomfortable with your doctor and/or your medical care, it’s important that you consider who it is you are not trusting any more.

Recent studies have shown that how you view your healthcare system, or your local hospital, can also impact how you feel about your doctor. So try to avoid falling into a situation of ‘guilt by association’ with your doctors.

When to Consider a Change

Sometimes, despite all your and your physician’s best efforts, you find yourself questioning more than trusting your doctor. In this case, you may want to consider changing your medical team. Some signs that it may be time to do so are when your doctor:

  • Doesn’t seem to be really listening to you.
  • Doesn’t seem to have time for you.
  • Seems to show more interest in your symptoms than the cause.
  • Seems more focused on getting you on medications than off them.
  • Begins to make subjective assumptions about you and your life.
  • Doesn’t seem to be up-to-date on new treatments.
  • Is offended when you ask too many questions.
  • Does not respect professional boundaries.

Partnering with your physician in your healthcare has been clearly shown to improve all aspects of healthcare, including treatment outcomes. You owe it to yourself to have the best relationship you can have with your doctor, and, as with other relationships in our lives, this will be based on mutual trust.

You owe it to yourself to ensure that trust is there.

What is your experience of partnering with your doctor? Do you trust everything they tell you or recommend you, or do you routinely question them? Have you ever challenged your doctor or sought out a second opinion? How did that go? Tell us about it. Please join the conversation.

Joy Stephenson-Laws is the founder of Proactive Health Labs, a national non-profit health information company that provides education and tools needed to achieve optimal health. Her most recent book is Minerals – The Forgotten Nutrient: Your Secret Weapon for Getting and Staying Healthy, available through Amazon, iTunes and bookstores.


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