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Telling your story… and finding a doctor who listens… is a key to better health

What you tell your doctor—and how you tell him or her—can help you receive effective medical care. So recognized is the strength of the doctor-patient partnership that medical schools have shifted emphasis from the so-called paternalistic model of medicine, in which a patient passively accepts a doctor’s authoritarian stance, to a patient-centered approach marked by open-ended questions, empathic listening and a free exchange of information.

Studies show the partnering approach yields significant rewards: Patients gain a sense of control over their treatment, are better able to withstand symptoms and are empowered to take the necessary steps toward recovery. Here are some ways to make collaborating with your physician easier:

Get to know your doctor. The best way to do this is by seeing him or her regularly. Building a rapport during well visits will serve you well when illness strikes.

Be specific. If you have a physical complaint, help your doctor by keeping your story focused. Keep a symptom log for a week or two before your appointment. Vague descriptions will only prolong the diagnostic process.

Ask questions—lots of them. In one study of 27 heart failure patients, most lacked a clear understanding of why they had this illness and how it would progress. Don’t let this happen to you. If you receive a diagnosis, ask your doctor to describe your condition in terms you can understand.

Become an expert—on you. Keep a record of your family medical history. If you have been diagnosed with an illness, read up on it and keep up to date on breaking news. Ask your doctor to recommend reliable resources.