Building a Relationship With Your Doctor Back »

Did you know that your relationship with your doctor can lead to better health? Multiple studies show that having trust in your doctor points to better health outcomes.1 Developing a strong relationship with a primary doctor we trust is an important part of our overall health. So, where do we start with this process? And how do we prepare for a successful appointment with our doctor?

Where to Start? Finding a Doctor.

First things first: To develop a relationship with our doctor, first we need to find a primary care doctor we trust. Our “primary care doctor” can also be referred to as our “main” doctor –the person we see for yearly physicals, general health conditions, preventive health screenings, etc. We typically visit our primary care doctor before we see a specialist for more complex health concerns and conditions.

Here are some tips for how to select a primary care doctor:

  • Ask family members and close friends for recommendations.
    Our family and friends know us well, so they can be great resources when we are looking for a primary care doctor.
  • Do your research!
  • Identify primary care doctors who are in your insurance plan.
  • Set up an appointment (or several!).
    You might not know if a doctor is a good fit for you until you visit with them in person. Do not hesitate to schedule appointments with more than one doctor to find the best fit.

It helps to “shop around” for our primary care doctor to find the best fit. However, we might not always have that option due to a limited number of doctors available within our insurance plan. There are also times when the doctor we would like see is not accepting new Medicaid and Medicare patients. Consider speaking with a medical social worker or patient navigator at a hospital or clinic to spend some time talking through your options. Take a look at the article about Medical and Health Social Workers to learn about how these individuals can assist you or a loved one.

Selecting a primary care doctor is a process. Going through this process is worth our time because it is an investment into our health for years to come. See the Choosing a Doctor You Can Talk To section of the National Institute on Aging Talking with Your Doctor guidebook for more information on how to select a primary care doctor.

Preparing For a Doctor’s Visit

Once we have found a primary care doctor who we trust, it is important to take some time to prepare for a doctor’s appointment beforehand to have a successful visit.

Here are some things to consider before a visit with your doctor:

  • Know the purpose of the visit.
    Why did you schedule the appointment? Maybe you are going in for your yearly physical or perhaps you scheduled the visit to discuss a specific health concern. Knowing why you are going in for a doctor’s appointment can help you stay focused on specific questions or discussions you would like to have with your doctor.
  • Make a list of questions and concerns.
    It is helpful to bring in a physical list of questions and concerns you would like to bring up with your doctor. Some of us may feel overwhelmed during doctor’s appointments –bringing a list can help us feel more at ease.
  • Need some extra support? Bring a family member or close friend.
    A family member or friend can provide support, especially when navigating a chronic condition or more complex medical condition. They can provide companionship, take notes during the appointment, ask clarifying questions during the appointment, etc.
  • Be an active participant in the conversation!
    Above all, remember to be an active participant in the conversation with your doctor. We may feel nervous or embarrassed to bring up certain health concerns or questions, but this is what our doctor is here for! Take advantage of your doctor’s expertise and the relationship you have worked to build with them.

See the Getting Ready for an Appointment section of the National Institute on Aging Talking with Your Doctor guidebook for more information on preparing for a doctor’s visit.

Additional Resources

SDSU Extension is here to help enhance your experience navigating the modern healthcare system. This article is the fourth in a series that will cover specific topics related to navigating the healthcare system we have now through gaining knowledge and communicating effectively with your healthcare providers. Would you like to learn more? Please check out the following resources.

Navigating Healthcare Series:


Reference: 1Murray B. & McCrone S. (2015) An integrative review of promoting trust in the patient–primary care provider relationship. Journal of Advanced Nursing 71(1), 3–23.

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