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What is a Doctor-Patient Relationship?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The doctor-patient relationship, be it positive or negative, is established in all ongoing patient-doctor interactions. It may be made up of a one-time consultation between a patient and physician or it can consist of a series of interactions over many years. It’s difficult to paint all such relationships with the some brush because they can be positive, negative, or neutral, and they may be long-term or exist for short periods of time only. What medical experts generally recognize is that neutral or, even better, positive interactions between patients and medical professionals improves quality of care through better communication.

The idea of the doctor-patient relationship is often intricately tied to the concept of bedside manner. Doctors who have higher-level communication and listening skills, and exhibit emotive qualities like empathy tend to illicit more medical information from patients and can get more of a general sense of the patient’s health in context of all other aspects of the patient’s life. Most doctors don’t have a lot of time for long communications with their clients, and this especially occurs in primary care, where doctor shortages lead to reduced time spent with each patient. Many feel that this turn of affairs benefits no one, and causes poor bedside manner.

There are reasons why it is exceptionally important that primary care physicians develop strong doctor-patient relationship skills. The most striking is that primary care physicians tend to make referrals to specialists and may coordinate care with specialists. Strong knowledge of the patient is of use in making the best referrals and continuing an ongoing relationship with patients to interpret a specialist's findings.

The doctor-patient relationship can be governed by particular rules. Privacy in communications of patients to doctors is often legislated so that patients can feel comfortable divulging personal medical information. Physicians are discouraged from pursuing dual relationships with clients that cross over between professional and personal. In some areas, sexual activity between physicians and their patients is illegal, and this is certainly almost always true in interactions between psychiatrists and clients. These protections, legislated or not, are considered appropriate to keep the relationship focused on medical issues.

When discussing the doctor-patient relationship, the description usually focuses on the doctor, but patients play a role too. When seeking medical guidance, a patient can best contribute to the relationship by being open about medical conditions, trying to avoid storytelling extraneous to the medical problem at hand, and remaining polite. The last may be hard to do when people are really sick, but in simple doctor’s visits for check-ups, polite behavior is of use.

Patients may also improve their relationships with doctors by knowing a little bit about medicine. The Internet has numerous informational sites on first aid, basic diseases, and long-term conditions. An informed patient will enhance doctor-patient relationships in all but those relationships where doctors are most egotistical and feel medicine is their exclusive province. Most doctors are not like this and support patients being involved and informed.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By barettjoye — On May 16, 2012

Such a good post. I think every doctor and patients should read this write-up and then they will able to understand the relationship between both of them.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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