Hi! It’s been a little while since I posted on my blog; the winter holidays kept me busy, I’ve traveled a lot since then, and I’m coping with a handful of acute health issues…it all sapped my blogging mojo! But I’m slowly easing back into it. Today, I’m thinking about how valuable it is to have kick-ass health care provider relationships. I want to talk about why it’s important, and how you can cultivate your own.

A handful of symptoms means a handful of health care providers

jenni at the doc

i like to take selfies in doctor’s offices #hospitalglam

18. That’s the number of health care appointments I’ve had so far this year. 18! The high number reflects a variety of things: an injury that’s required a few follow-ups and special procedures; maintenance appointments like a mammogram; check-ins with my pain psychologist; a trip to a compounding pharmacy; and physical therapy appointments to try to turn around my flare-up. It’s been overwhelming, and it’s SO HARD to get any work done when I’m constantly running around! Not to mention the hospital parking fees I’ve racked up.

Harrumph. It’s enough to make a babe grumpy.

Across those 18 appointments, I’ve seen 10 different health care providers. Some were brand-new to me, and WOW is it exhausting to have to explain your whole history to a new person. Especially when you’re asking them to diagnose a tricky issue. (Like one thing I’ve had for the past week: extreme sensitivity in all of my teeth. Weird!)

But some of those health care providers have known me as long as 25 years. It’s those appointments that really help keep me sane during this crazy-making time.

Long-term relationships matter

I’ve talked before about ways to strengthen your relationships with doctors and other health care providers. I’m sure you can guess some of the reasons, but let’s review:

  • You don’t have to re-tell your whole medical history at each visit
  • They can spot patterns in your symptoms you may not see
  • You cultivate a sense of trust…in each other
  • Your medical records are all in one place (or at least focused in a couple places)
  • When you’re a little late, or they need to reschedule, it’s easier to manage and you can cut each other a little slack
  • You feel more comforted and safe with them

These are just a few of the reasons why long-term health care provider relationships are so important. Here’s a quick story about another reason why:

My pain is unexplainable and scary, but my HCPs help

I mentioned that all of my teeth have been hurting. For a few days, I tried to be patient and hope it would improve, but I finally gave in on Sunday and went to immediate care. Without knowing my background, the doc couldn’t point to any potential cause, and couldn’t find any visible symptoms, so they prescribed a numbing mouth rinse to ease the pain. The catch: It had to be mixed by a compounding pharmacy, which I only realized after trying two other pharmacies. (A doc who’s known me a long time would have told me that!)

jenni at the doc in a scrub top

it’s me! right before my mammogram last week.

The next day, I had a physical therapy appointment for two other acute pain issues, and I’ve known my PT for many years. We talked about my teeth and she said it could be possible that, along with all my other current pain flare-ups and sensitivities, the nerves in my mouth and face are also inflamed. In short, that it might not even be a tooth-specific pain, but more of an overall throughout-my-body kind of pain flare-up that spread to my face. Weird!

I took that info to my dentist later in the day, and he agreed she might be right. He also said the stress of all my health issues could be causing me to grind my teeth at night, which might require a night guard… but he also knows I don’t have a history of grinding, so it’s not a big possibility. We talked for almost an hour, and finally a light bulb went on over his head. A week previous, I thought I was getting a cold, so I had consumed a lot of vitamin C-packed beverages; he said that could be the cause of the pain.

As we sat and talked, my anxiety about my symptoms lessened. Both my physical therapist and my dentist heard me, thought about many possibilities, and talked them through with me. Both of these HCPs respect me, and aim to have productive appointments—and both of them reassured me that whatever the cause, we could reduce or eliminate the pain.

I arrived at my dentist’s office with pain and anxiety at a 7 out of 10, and I left with pain and anxiety around a 4. That’s a huge difference, and just from talking it through! Plus, I felt like I understood my own anatomy better, had a few things to watch out for, and had some exercises and things to try (like a new toothpaste) so I felt empowered.

How can YOU feel that way when you leave an appointment?

That’s right, I felt EMPOWERED. I definitely do NOT feel that way after many health care appointments. But a few health care providers have been part of my team for many years, and when I see them, our conversations feel like collaborations. It makes an enormous difference. I’m so thankful.

I want YOU to feel empowered, too! The best way to do that is to build a long-term relationship with your health care providers whenever possible. A few things to aim for:

  • If you must switch insurance providers, petition the new provider for continuation of care with your same HCPs. Ask your HCPs to write letters to petition for continuation of care, too.
  • Respect boundaries with your HCP. I have my psychologist’s direct phone number, but I don’t call her all the time (that would be taking advantage of my increased access); I only call her with urgent or time-sensitive needs. Otherwise, I email her, or the office admin, as appropriate.
  • Ask your health care provider for the best way to connect. Maybe they like you to use the portal for some things, but call their nurses’ station for others. Maybe they’re cool with you texting them. Ask, and respect their feedback.
  • When you arrive for an appointment, bring relevant information like x-ray results, equipment you use, your complete current medication list, a list of concerns and symptoms to review, and a reminder of what you want to get out of the appointment.
  • Lead conversations with a moment of connection. Start by saying something like “I’m so glad to see you; I know you care as much as I do about reducing my symptoms, and I’m hoping that today, we can make some progress toward that goal.” By reminding your HCP up front that this is a collaboration, you’re laying a solid foundation for a good appointment.
  • Always say thank you. Always. (When I was finishing my appointment with my dentist yesterday, I thanked him for hearing me, respecting me, and teaching me some things that could help. He seemed to appreciate that recognition.)
  • If you’re not clicking with a health care provider, try to talk it through and ask for what you want different, with something like: “I know we’re trying to accomplish the same goal—helping me feel better—but I’m feeling a little rushed at our appointments. Is it possible to schedule for an extra 10 minutes so we have longer to review things?”
  • If it’s just not working, and you’ve tried your best, move on. Be gracious—HCPs talk to each other, so don’t burn bridges!—but get outta there. Ask your trusted friends, families, and other folks in your disease community for referrals, and specify what kind of doc you want: compassionate, patient, driven, research-focused… whatever.

It’s not always easy, or possible, to build a long-term health care provider relationship. But when it works, it makes a HUGE difference. I hope these tips help you!

Your turn:

What has helped you build long-term relationships with your HCPs? What hasn’t worked? Have any stories about how the stronger relationships have helped you accomplish specific goals or solve problems? Let me know! Leave your comments below. Thanks!