Study after study suggests that having a strong relationship with your doctor is important for your health. For instance, research published in Plos One in 2017 found that people who trusted their medical providers reported fewer symptoms, more satisfaction with their treatment, and a higher quality of life.
The doctor-patient connection may be particularly crucial—and tricky—as we age. “Patients who are older may have more complex diseases, such as autoimmune diseases, that can be challenging to manage,” says Ana María López, M.D., president of the American College of Physicians. “They may be on multiple medications and they may have limitations, such as poor hearing or vision, that make communication more complicated.”
If you’re dissatisfied, it’s essential to take steps to improve the relationship, López says. The less comfortable you are with your doctors, “the less likely you are to follow their advice or go to them when you’re struggling or have symptoms,” she notes. Here, solutions to four common doctor-patient problems, plus what your doctor needs from you and how to tell it’s time to find a different provider.
1. It’s Hard to Get Appointments
The average wait time for a new patient to see a family doctor in a big city was 29 days in 2017, up from 19.5 days in 2014, according to a survey by the physician recruiting firm Merritt Hawkins. For specialists, it took an average of about 21 days to see a cardiologist and more than 26 days to see a gynecologist.
The fix: If you’re really sick—for example, running a high fever—you should be able to get a same- or next-day appointment with your primary doctor. “Most offices should have some sort of system in place where you can get in,” says Linda Girgis, M.D., an assistant professor of medicine at the Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, N.J.
If your doc is booked, a nurse practitioner or physician assistant might be able to see you. In nonurgent cases, ask to be put on a waiting list, or consider an appointment with the NP or PA.
If you’re having trouble getting in to see a specialist, reach out to your primary care provider. If he agrees that you need to be seen sooner, he can call the specialist’s office.