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Building a Cooperative Doctor/Patient Relationship

January 2011

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Table of Contents

Building a Cooperative Doctor/Patient Relationship


A positive HIV antibody test or an AIDS diagnosis changes many aspects of a person's life, including the kind of relationship they have with their doctor. Many people develop a more assertive attitude about their health and well-being when they find out they have HIV. Because HIV disease and its treatment is complicated, making decisions about when, how and whether to start therapy isn't always easy.

One great step to take is to become an active participant in your health care and treatment decisions. This means that both you and your doctor need to learn how to work and communicate with each other.

This publication's intention is to help both patient and doctor establish reasonable expectations of each other and to set up a climate of cooperation and joint responsibility for healing. Just as there isn't a "one size fits all" approach to HIV care, there's no one doctor-patient relationship that suits everyone.

Building a Cooperative Doctor/Patient Relationship

For the Patient ...

Share Your Point of View With Your Doctor

Share your point of view. If something is or isn't working for you, it's important to let your doctor know. Being honest about your viewpoint is especially important if you want to enroll in a study or use experimental treatments.

Explain why you're considering a particular decision and listen to what your doctor has to say. Many doctors are willing to work with and support patients who have clearly put some thought and time into their decisions.

Whether or not agreement is reached on particular treatments, properly monitoring through exams and lab tests should be routine. In turn, you should agree to heed reasonable warnings suggested by this process.

If you want certain prescriptions, asking in a friendly tone is likely to work best. If the doctor opposes it, you're entitled to know why, in clear terms. His or her concerns and knowledge should be given due respect, whether or not you agree with them.

Choose a Relationship Style

Choose a relationship style and discuss it with your doctor. People have different styles of relating to doctors, and those styles may change at different times or for different illnesses. In the "traditional" doctor-patient relationship, the doctor leads and the patient follows. For some, this is effective because they feel secure and cared for.


Others may view their relationship as more of a partnership, where both contribute to the decision-making process. Some prefer to make decisions and use a doctor primarily as a consultant. This style requires diplomacy by the patient as many doctors have not adjusted to the role of consultant.

None of these styles is right or wrong, but they all make different demands upon the relationship. It's important that you let your doctor know which style you prefer. As you become more familiar with HIV and experience different health challenges, the doctor-patient relationship style that works best for you may change.

Learn the Information

Knowledge makes a world of difference. Generally, the more you know before a medical appointment, the more you can benefit from each visit. Obtaining information on your own doesn't need to be difficult or overwhelming. In fact, the education process can begin right at home.

Many websites, hotlines and community organizations are dedicated to answering questions about HIV. Realize that you can't learn everything at once, so concentrate on the information that's most important to your health right now. While self-learning is great, it should not substitute using your doctor as a source of information.

Prepare for Appointments

You can benefit most when a visit is well-planned. It takes only a few minutes to write down key questions ahead of time. Get in the habit of writing down items in a journal about side effects you've experienced, missed doses, or any questions that come up between visits. Use it to update your doctor at the start of the visit.

Use the limited time in your doctor's office to focus on the most critical issues, rather than everything that comes to mind. Maybe bring along treatment literature to discuss in the visit. This allows your doctor to know your sources of information and how to evaluate them.

Getting Emotional News

Be prepared for the emotional content of the visit. Most doctors are sensitive, caring people who respond emotion-ally to their patients. Still, there's only so much support a doctor can give in the short time allotted for most visits. Plan in advance to make use of other support resources.

If you prefer a more straightforward approach, let your doctor know. But don't expect him or her to also serve as your therapist if news is unusually hard to hear. By choosing a more direct approach, you also choose a path that requires greater inner support.

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This article was provided by Project Inform. Visit Project Inform's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.