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What you should expect from your doctor

During an office visit with my surgeon before my recent surgery for breast cancer, he said, “This may be routine for me, but I recognize that it is not routine for you and I will not treat you as if it was.”

This simple statement stuck with me, as it helped engender my trust in him and in the whole process.

Sometimes a statement, a comforting touch, or slowing down to be present with the person in the exam room makes all the difference for a patient. As health care providers, we need to strive for this kind of connection. Developing a trusting relationship, which I experienced with my surgeon, is part of the healing we do.

In the last column, I discussed how to be a good patient. However, the doctor-patient relationship, like any other, needs both parties to contribute. So whether your office visit is with a new provider or with someone you have been seeing for years, what should you expect? Courtesy, respect, dignity, responsiveness and timely attention to your needs are reasonable expectations. There are others as well.

Confidentiality. No health care provider or their staff may legally reveal confidential information without your consent unless there is a need to protect your welfare or the public interest. There is an implied consent when you are referred for ongoing care to another provider.

Answers. If you have questions about diagnoses, alternative treatment options, or the differences between recommended and alternative treatments then you should be able to discuss these questions with your health care provider. You may be given information to review on paper, in a DVD or in another format before you go over it with your health care provider. There may also be a recommendation that you meet with a nurse, dietitian, pharmacist or other health professional to help you get information you need.

Treatment discussions usually include the benefits, risks and costs of appropriate treatment alternatives. You may be referred to office staff or the pharmacy for details about costs of treatment. After being given information and discussing options, it is also reasonable to ask your provider to give you an independent professional opinion (based on current best standards of care) on the optimal course of action and on alternative courses of action. Some patients want this kind of opinion and others are more comfortable making a decision for themselves.

Acknowledgement and acceptance. Health care providers need to recognize that you have the final say on the decisions you make about your health care, regardless of whether you decide to accept recommended medical treatment. However, if you are a parent deciding for a child, the decision you make cannot endanger the child significantly or the health care provider has a legal obligation to report such decisions to authorities.

Cooperation and coordination. A primary care provider has the responsibility of helping to coordinate and do referrals for medically indicated treatment. They and other providers may also need to advocate for you to your insurance or other third parties.

And if for any reason your health care provider is no longer available to care for you, their staff should provide time, reasonable assistance, and sufficient opportunity to make alternative arrangements for your care.

Like any good relationship, the one with your health care provider will grow and change with time. Knowing what to expect can help the relationship remain healthy.

Dr. Alisa Hideg is a family medicine physician at Group Health’s Riverfront Medical Center in Spokane. Her column appears every other Tuesday in the Today section. Send your comments and column suggestions to