Usually in March, a week is set aside to celebrate Doctor-Patient Trust Week. The idea is to foster a good, healthy relationship between you and your doctor. Today, maybe even more so than ever before, it's a good time to ask yourself: Can you, and do you, trust your doctor? Does she trust you?

Look at the times. There are sweeping changes to the US health care and insurance industries in the US, a constant ebb and flow of Medicare eligibility and doctors' willingness to see patients with that coverage, and the ever-present threat of medical malpractice lawsuits.

There's a lot out there to fuel mistrust.

Trust In What, Exactly?

We're talking about a couple of things when we say "trust." On one level, there's what most us think about first when we put the words "trust" and "doctor" together: Medical records. There are a host of state and federal laws protecting the privacy of your medical records. Generally, your doctor has to take steps to keep them secure, and he can't discuss your medical condition or history with anyone without your permission.

Most doctors' offices go to great lengths to follow the law and protect your privacy. If you have any questions or doubts about your doctor's policies and practices, ask someone at the office.

Similarly, you generally can trust that anything you say to your doctor will be kept confidential. In many states, the "doctor-patient privilege" prevents your doctor from revealing things you tell him during the course of medical treatment - even in a court of law. For example, say a patient sees his doctor for treatment of a sexually-transmitted disease, and he tells the doctor that he's having an extra-marital affair. If the patient's wife later files for divorce, the doctor can't be forced to testify about the patient's affair.

Other Trust

Doctor-patient trust goes beyond medical records and the like. The relationship between you and your doctor is at the heart of the trust issue. Here's what you can both do to build a healthy relationship:

  • Communicate. As the patient, your doctor depends on you to explain, as best you can, what's bothering you. She can't read your mind, so you need to be upfront and truthful on your visits. Likewise, your doctor should ask questions, listen to you, and investigate. Together, as a team, you can work out a treatment plan
  • Give and demand respect. If either or both of you aren't treated with respect, there can never be a healthy relationship
  • Let your expectations be known. As the patient, your doctor should know you expect to hear the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be. Your doctor should be willing to do, so too. For example, if your doctor believes you're overweight, he should tell you, and he should be able to do so without fear of offending or upsetting you
  • Be prepared. As the patient, you should try to do some research on your medical problem before your visit. You don't need crash course in medical training, but a little digging on WebMD may help you explain things a little easier to your doctor.

Don't try to be the doctor, though. No matter how much you believe you've pinpointed the problem, it's your doctor who needs to make the final call. If you don't like what she says, calmly explain why and ask if she can recommend someone for a second opinion

  • Quality care should be the goal. If either you or the doctor have questions about how any changes in the health care and insurance fields may effect your ability to pay the doctor or his ability to treat you, it should be discussed openly and immediately
  • Mistakes happen. Doctors aren't all-powerful. They're human and they make mistakes just like the rest of us. Sometimes a mistake is serious and a lawsuit may be the best and only way to help make sure the patient is taken care of and the mistake doesn't happen again. Not every mistake equals a lawsuit, though. Small mistakes might best be handled by an apology from the doctor and some understanding from the patient. You may be surprised how much trust is built

A good level of trust between you and your doctor is good for you both. It helps make sure the doctor does his job properly and you get the medical care need.

Questions For Your Attorney

  • Doesn't apologizing to a patient about a mistake make it more likely I'll be sued for malpractice?
  • What should I do if my medical records are stolen from my doctor's office?
  • My doctor said he won't see me anymore because my insurance changed. I offered to pay out of pocket, but he still refused. Is that legal?

Tagged as: Health Care, trusting the doctor, health care lawyer