Who Needs the Relationship More: Doctors or Patients?

Pamela L. Wible, MD


August 23, 2017

In This Article

An Argument for Neither Needing the Other

Whereas the patient relationship may be essential to a psychiatrist or family physician, some doctors believe that neither the physician nor the patient needs the relationship. Radiologists and pathologists, for example, rarely have the opportunity to meet the actual patient. How much of a relationship is possible during an autopsy? Can neonatologists really develop a relationship with a 24-week preemie? Their relationship is more likely with the parents.

So what's the answer? Maybe doctors and patients both need each other, yet neither knows exactly why.

"Both" is the answer, says family physician Carolyn Eaton, MD. "The doctor-patient relationship is a symbiotic one," she points out. "The doctor needs the relationship not just for the financial remuneration from services rendered, but for the affirmation that all those hours of training have been worth the effort to help others—the improved hemoglobin A1c, the lower blood pressure, or the lesion found as a polyp long before it could become cancer. Most important are the pictures of children, grandchildren, fur babies, and smiles. Patients receive information to make their health—and therefore their lives—better (should they choose to listen to us)."

What Do Patients Want?

Doctors spend a lot of time worrying about patients' perception of their relationship. We wonder whether the patient is happy. Lately, we worry whether we're getting good online reviews. Yet doctors may be projecting their own needs onto a relationship that may not be that important to the patient.

What do patients really want from us? Reassurance they will be okay and won't die. Sometimes all the patient wants is a pill. Others are happy to hand over complete responsibility for their health to the doctor. The truth is that most patients just want to get better and may not be invested in developing a relationship at all.

Physicians, on the other hand, may rely on the patient relationship for fulfillment and self-esteem. Maybe physicians are less interested in the relationship and more in need of validation. Of course, patients have no idea that doctors need validation, and doctors seem so distracted by the pressures of productivity that they're unable to be fully engaged and present in the relationship.

What do you think? Who do you think needs the relationship more: the doctor or the patient?


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