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How to Improve Doctor-Patient Relationships

If you've ever experienced symptoms that are uncomfortable or life-changing, your first instinct might be to go to the doctor. And, if you've been diagnosed with a health condition, your doctor might have some kind of treatment in mind.

Unfortunately, depending on what your diagnosis is, the treatment could cause even more pain, discomfort, and uneasiness. You may find yourself researching other alternatives to help treat your illness.

What happens when your doctor isn't open to hearing your own opinion and potential alternative options?

It's so important to firmly stand your ground and listen your gut, especially when it comes to your health. Sometimes doctors that follow more western medicine practices tend to stick to textbook information and very rarely look to other alternative methods of treatment.

But, by having an open dialogue about what makes you more comfortable, you might be able to improve your relationship with your doctor and find a treatment option that works.

How can you find a doctor who's open to patients who advocate for themselves and their loved ones?

Best-selling author, Julia Schopick, joins Dr. Mike to share how you can improve your doctor-patient relationships.
How to Improve Doctor-Patient Relationships
Featured Speaker:
Julia SchopickJulia Schopick is a best-selling author of the book, Honest Medicine: Effective, Time-Tested, Inexpensive Treatments for Life-Threatening Diseases.

She is a seasoned radio talk show guest who has appeared on over 100 shows and is often invited back. Through her writings and her blog,, Julia's goal is to empower patients to make the best health choices for themselves and their loved ones by teaching them about little-known but promising treatments their doctors may not know about.

Julia's writings on health and medical topics have been featured in American Medical News (AMA), Alternative & Complementary Therapies, the British Medical Journal and the Chicago Sun-Times.

RadioMD Presents:Healthy Talk | Original Air Date: April 14, 2015
Host: Michael Smith, MD

Living longer and staying healthier. It's Healthy Talk with Dr. Michael Smith, MD. Here's your host, Dr. Mike:

DR MIKE: So, I'm going to talk about improving doctor/patient relationships. My guest is Julia Schopick. She's author of the best-selling book, Honest Medicine: Effective, Time-Tested, Inexpensive Treatments for Life-Threatening Diseases. She's a seasoned radio talk show host herself. She's been on all kinds of shows. I think over like 100 different shows and is often invited back. She's been on my show before. She has a great website, Julia, welcome to Health Talk.

JULIA: Dr. Mike, it's so good to be back here. I enjoyed you the last time and I'm looking forward to today.

DR MIKE: Yes. No, this is good. What an important conversation. You know, so when I was in medical school—actually, no. When I was in my internship, Julia, I did internal medicine at the University of Utah and once a week or maybe once every couple of weeks, we had a physician who would come in. He would in his 80's. He was retired and the reason he brought him in was because the program director wanted us to learn the art of listening. The art of physical exam because what has happened, doctors have become so dependent on technology, that they don't really listen anymore. They don't touch anymore. So, when you wanted to talk to me about this building a better doctor/patient relationship, I really relate to this and I thought that what a great topic. But, just real quickly, how did you become such a patient advocate?

JULIA: Well, I became a patient advocate, actually, Dr. Mike, because I had to. That was when my husband, at the age of 40, became a diagnosed brain tumor patient and for the first few years, I actually didn't advocate for him. You know, we were so frightened, so terrified, that we just went in lockstep with what the doctor said and that was surprising for me because my dad was a doctor and he told me, "Do not be passive before the medical system." He said, "Be wary." But, you know, when you're confronted with a diagnosis like a brain tumor, all heck breaks loose and you just...

DR MIKE: Yes. Yes. Scary.

JULIA: It was very, very scary.

DR MIKE: So, when was this, if you don't mind me asking? What year?

JULIA: Absolutely not. I don't mind you asking at all. He was diagnosed in 1990. He was 40 years old and, as I said, for the first few years, we just went in lockstep with what the doctor said, but then, after that, I noticed he was outliving his prognosis.

DR MIKE: Oh, nice.

JULIA: They gave him 3 years. He was living longer. So, I started becoming an advocate. You know, in the beginning, it had nothing to do with the doctors because, you know, we were just doing things on our own, like nutrition and good diet and, you know, we got a nutritionist. But then, in 2001, he had a recurrence and what I found was that his skin would not heal. He had had radiation previously. I know we don't have a long time, so I'm trying to cut the story short a little bit.

DR MIKE: Sure.

JULIA: But, he had had radiation and his skin wouldn't heal and at that point, I really, really learned about the miscommunication between doctors and patients because...

DR MIKE: So, you talk about the empowered patient, right? That's kind of your...What do you mean by the empowered patient?

JULIA: The empowered patient...By the way, I'm not crazy about the word "empowered" but if you can think of another one, I'll take it.

DR MIKE: I'll work with you on that one.

JULIA: I'm not because it's sort of in the self-help group, they use empowered a lot in self-help groups. But, the empowered patient is one who does not just take what the doctor says. You know, who knows if the doctor gives a diagnosis and treatments that are working, to accept them. But, not if they're not working. To speak up. To—I don't want to say "defend yourself" because it acts like that's a big fight, but, you know...

DR MIKE: But, Julia, look at...Let me play devil's advocate for a second because there's a lot of doctors, especially doctors that were trained in the 80's and 90's. I was trained in the late 90's, you know, that's when technology was just having this boom and we lost a little bit when it came to that, I think, doctor/patient relationship because we're so reliant on that technology. A lot of doctors from that age group are kind of...They take on this paternal type role with their patients. So, what does an empowered patient do if their doctor doesn't want to...Do you just have to fire the doctor and go find another one?

JULIA: Well, that's an option, but I want to tell you something that made a segway a little bit because you're going to laugh at this. My dad, actually was a doctor in the 60's and a little bit into the 70's and, at that point, tests were coming into favor. Never as many tests as we have now, but he used to say, "All those damn tests. Doctors don't listen anymore."

DR MIKE: Right. Yes. Well, that's when it kind of exploded was the 80's and 90's, right? It was when technology really took off.

JULIA: That's when technology took off, but, Dr. Mike, tests started to be developed way before then. My father was known to be able to tell what was wrong with a patient by looking at him or her, feeling his or her skin and asking questions and then being quiet and listening.

DR MIKE: So, how do we, how can somebody find a doctor who's more like an advocate for them versus that paternal-type role. How do you go about finding that right doctor?

JULIA: So, the way you do it, actually, is probably to interview different doctors. To ask your friends. To talk to the friends, especially, who are more active kinds of people and who wouldn't just, you know, want a passive relationship. But, the problem comes when you're diagnosed with a very serious, serious illness. What do you do if the neurosurgeon, as in our case, is very paternalistic? Then you've got a problem and you have to really stand up for yourself and say, you know, "Doctor, I was hoping you could explain this a little bit better." And, "Doctor, I'm not sure I agree with you on this. What do you think?" And then, if they get very hostile, you do have to go look for another one even if it's a serious illness and that is difficult.

DR MIKE: Yes. So, in your book, Honest Medicine, which really is a collection, right? Of people you've interviewed, people who have, you know, really taken over, as you say, empowered themselves and have some great success stories. So, are all of these stories you tell in that book, are these people who really sought out a better doctor/patient relationship? Were they using...When you went through their research, did you find all these patients you interviewed, were they kind of like that empowered patient?

JULIA: You know, they became like that empowered patient, but I have to tell you, in the beginning, they were like we were. You know, my husband and I, when they got their diagnosis. They waited too long and one of the messages of the book, of my book, Honest Medicine, is to follow you gut. Listen to your gut and if the doctor is not saying things that resonates with you, move on—which is what a lot of patients in my book did.

DR MIKE: So, I've told some friends of mine, even Life Extension members, I've suggested to them, if there's something you want to try, especially in the supplement world, right? A lot of the conventional doctors are still kind of not sure about all that. What about just bringing in some of the literature that supports what it is you want to do?

JULIA: Well, this is a very good idea and it's one that I use a lot. But, here's the big but, you have to make sure that you present the literature in a way that is really, really thought out ahead of time. In other words, my dad used to always complain that patients were bringing in the Reader's Digest and thinking that the Reader's Digest knew more than they. What patients do today is they bring in literature, but they kind of don't present it in a very coordinated manner. And, I have developed a system. I'm glad you asked this because I do coaching sessions with patients on how to bring material to your doctor and the way to do it is...

DR MIKE: Well, let me...Julia, we're out of time, basically. Is that information on how to do this on the website

JULIA: It's actually going to be on the website, because I'm adding a chapter to the book now which I will place on the website first.

DR MIKE: So, I'm going to tell my listeners to go check out Julia. She's wonderful. Julia, thanks for coming on.

This is Healthy Talk on RadioMD. I'm Dr. Mike. Stay well.