10/20/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How To Find Your Voice In The Doctor's Office

I'm always surprised at how many people accept the nature of their healthcare for the simple reason that they believe they don't really have a choice in the matter. Some people have been with the same doctor for years, while others eenie-meenie-miney-moed their doctor from a list of "preferred providers" supplied to them by their insurance company. Either way they feel stuck with their current provider, or they simply believe that one doctor is as good as the next.

Besides, who are they to question the knowledge and care of a well-educated doctor, right?

Unfortunately many people's association with their physician fits one of the descriptions above. I believe there are two kinds of dysfunctional relationships that are taking place on a daily basis in doctor's offices across the nation and unless we learn how to stop it now, this trend will continue indefinitely.

A Tale of Two Types of Relationships in a Doctor's Office

The Stagnant "Marriage" Relationship:

Too many people have an apathetic relationship with their general practitioner. Kind of like a pair of indifferent spouses in a loveless relationship, neither one really listens to what the other one has to say and neither one really realizes the importance of the relationship.

Doctors in this relationship work on a by-quota basis. Because of the nature of the insurance beast, these physicians can only spend about 5-10 minutes with each patient. This kind of drive-up health care only allows doctors to see patients in a general sense and therefore treat patients on a more general basis--a one-size-fits-all medical format.

Patients in this type of relationship rarely take the advice of their doctor to heart. They just want the pill that fixes their ailment and anything further than that falls on deaf ears.

This haphazard dance around true health makes for a disastrous outcome indeed.

The Awestruck Relationship:

Another type of relationship that people have with their doctor is the unquestioning, whatever-you-say affiliation. Here the patient reveres their doctor as having God-like qualities and therefore should never be questioned. They feel bad about calling the office regarding medical complaints, and don't want to take too much of their physician's time. In turn, the physician never understands the true nature of his or her patient's health. It also enables the doctor to never really have to try.

How to Develop a Better Relationship With Your Physician: It Takes Two

For the Patient

Let me be frank here, one of the most important relationships you can have in your life is with your healthcare provider. That is why you should take an active role in choosing a doctor. When I say relationship, I'm not talking about exchanging numbers or setting up play dates with each other's children. You don't have to become bosom buddies. However, it must be a partnership where you can be candid when discussing your health concerns, and then, on equal footing, discussing a health plan that will work for both of you.

Because prevention takes time and effort from both parties, you'll want to make sure you find a practitioner that fits your personality and budget.

Before going into the doctor's office

* Do some fact checking on the physician. Visit his or her website and look for testimonies (good and bad) on the Internet. See what he or she has to offer above and beyond just general care.
* Do a little research on your ailment (if you have one) or the kind of program you're looking to integrate into your life.
* Make sure you understand your expectations and whether or not they are realistic. Also go in knowing that you're going to have to do a little work yourself to achieve perfect health.
* Be equipped with knowledge (even go as far as having the sources behind your information).
* Write down all your questions and have paper and pen handy to write down the answers.

At the doctor's office

* Make sure your doctor is attentive to your needs.
* Make sure your doctor is willing to listen.
* Don't just settle for one opinion. Many patients will go along with their physician's diagnosis and prescription for health, even if they have a nagging suspicion it is wrong. My advice is to always heed that inner voice. If you want a second opinion then get one.

There are many forward thinking doctors who are trying to bridge the gap in the patient/doctor relationship; however, patients must begin meeting them half way.

Many doctors provide their patients with the proper resources and advice toward advanced health. They prescribe diets, exercises, and emotional techniques for a more balanced lifestyle. They give out informational brochures, books, and Internet sites to better equip their patients. Yet, too often these well-meaning and important recommendations end up in the "to-be-sorted-later pile" never to see the light of day again. As with all relationships, it must be a two-pronged effort. In short, get involved in your health!

For the Doctors in the House

This article may initially seem off-putting. You may be thinking, "Who's this guy to tell me how to run my practice?"

Number One: I'm just like you. I run a hectic practice during the day and a hectic household during the night.

Number Two: I understand that our current system doesn't necessarily give us a whole lot of wriggle room to explore a meaningful relationship with our patients. However, as physicians we must take a stand and create a more fulfilling form of healthcare. If we don't, no one else will.

Even though most ailments on the human spectrum have a quick fix; it's when we address the core issues of health--mental, emotional, physical, and even spiritual, that we have the chance to make fantastic and long lasting transformations in a patient's life.

That is what integrative medicine strives to accomplish. Rather than spending the normal eight minutes listening to the patient's heart, their minor or major complaints, and then diagnosing and prescribing, we should try to spend more time listening while discerning what is underneath the surface. We should effectively connect with our patients.

Your Health Depends on It

The truth is, without intervention, the body begins to fail as we get older. With each year, it takes more effort to keep it balanced and working properly. Therefore, both the physician and patient must make a concerted effort to intervene in the aging process. It is much easier to keep a healthy person healthy, than to jump-start an ailing and broken body.

It's time to maximize a relationship with your doctor by bridging the impersonal gap that current medicine has embraced and incorporated.

Your present and future health depends on it.