What doctors wish their patients knew

Surprising results from our survey of 660 primary-care physicians

Last reviewed: March 2011
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As the health-reform law takes effect over the next several years, some 32 million newly insured Americans will gain access to a regular doctor. They will soon learn what others already know: Getting the best care from your doctor requires navigating a complex relationship within the 20 or so minutes allotted for the typical office visit. Despite those constraints, three-quarters of the 49,007 Consumer Reports subscribers we surveyed said they were highly satisfied with their doctors. But they still had complaints ranging from the irritating, such as having to sit too long in the waiting room, to the substantive, such as ineffective treatments.

We also surveyed 660 primary-care physicians who had a lot to say about their professional challenges—and about what patients could do to get the most out of their relationship with their own doctors. Some highlights of the surveys:

  • Doctors and patients alike put a high value on courtesy and professionalism.
  • Patients aren't taking full advantage of strategies that doctors think are helpful, such as taking notes during their visits.
  • Not knowing much up front about a doctor's personality or treatment style was a real obstacle for patients in search of a good match.

Together those survey results help create a road map toward a more productive relationship with someone who, after all, should be your most important health-care professional.

"A primary-care doctor should be your partner in overall health, not just someone you go to for minor problems or a referral to specialty care," said Kevin Grumbach, M.D., professor and chair of the department of family and community medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center conducted the subscriber survey in 2009 (our readers may not be representative of the U.S. population as a whole). The online poll of a national sample of primary-care physicians was conducted in September 2010.