We all want health care providers who are experienced and skilled, but some factors in the doctor-patient relationship that seem to have less to do with medical abilities may be equally important to your care. A case in point: A recent review in the journal BMJ Open found that people who feel their physician treats them with respect, values them, listens to them, and involves them in treatment decisions are more likely to follow doctor’s orders; get screened for conditions such as diabetes, colorectal cancer, and breast cancer; have their cholesterol tested; and stay on top of immunizations.

Why the Doctor-Patient Relationship Matters

Alternatively, if you and your doctor don’t see eye to eye, you’re less apt to take his advice, and he may be less engaged in your care.

“The power of rapport and compassion can’t be overemphasized when it comes to establishing effective doctor-patient partnerships,” says Kevin Fiscella, M.D., M.P.H., professor of family medicine and public health sciences and associate director of the Rochester Center to Improve Communication in Health at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York.

But you can play a key role in trying to turn around a challenging situation, says patient advocate and emergency physician Leana Wen, M.D., author of “When Doctors Don’t Listen” (St. Martin’s Press, 2013).

“Being a good patient is not being quiet and obedient," says Wen. "You know yourself, your body, and your symptoms best. We want you to help us and need you to help us.”

Here are six concerns that commonly crop up in the doctor-patient relationship, and what to do to make yours much better:

A man talking with his doctor. It's important to fix the doctor-patient relationship so you get the best care.

Problem 1: You and Your Doctor Can't Communicate

Maybe when you try to tell your doctor what’s bothering you, she interrupts, without looking up from her chart or computer screen. Or she’s all business and her brusqueness makes you feel awkward about asking questions. Being comfortable with your doctor is important for your health, says Helen Riess, M.D., director of the empathy and relational science program at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Studies have found that if your doctor has good people skills—making plenty of eye contact with you or responding to your emotions, for example—you have a better chance of losing weight and succeeding at lowering high blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. In addition, if your doctor sticks with a checklist of questions that have only yes or no answers—as some do, says Wen—or if you feel too ill at ease to share fully, she’s less likely to get to the bottom of a health problem.

The Fix: Speak up. Let your doctor know, for example, that you feel nervous about asking questions, or that you can better focus on what she’s saying if she faces you instead of the computer.

“These strategies give the doctor a chance to try again,” Fiscella says.

And instead of relaying just your symptoms (“my head hurts”), tell a full story: Describe when the pain started, your activities at the time, and the physical sensations you’re experiencing.

“This ensures your entire answer is heard, not just the part the doctor thinks she wants to hear,” Wen says.

Problem 2: Your Doctor Makes Decisions Without Your Input

For health concerns large and small, your doctor should discuss the pros and cons of treatment options, then help you make an informed choice. That shared decision-making can increase your chances of positive results because it boosts the likelihood that you’ll stick with the treatment. Plus, “your satisfaction level will be higher if you feel you’ve been a part of the decision,” says John Santa, M.D., a medical adviser at Consumer Reports. “Your tolerance level, if things don’t go well, will be better, too.”

But that kind of collaboration doesn’t always happen, even to health professionals. “I found this out the hard way when my mother was dying from metastatic cancer,” Wen says. “She wanted palliative care, but her doctor had different views. This caused a lot of tension in my family.”

The Fix: If your doctor isn’t receptive to your ideas, ask him how the benefits and risks of his recommendations compare with your preferences.

“It’s your health, so find the courage to speak up for yourself,” says Timothy Gilligan, M.D., co-director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Excellence in Healthcare Communication.

One helpful strategy: Ask whether you can have some time to think about his suggestions. A little breathing room will allow you to do some research on your own so that you have a better handle on your options. Having that information “helps balance the power dynamic,” Fiscella says.

Another useful tactic: If you’ll be discussing a serious issue, bring a family member along with you to the appointment. “That levels the playing field, because now you have numbers on your side and emotional support,” Fiscella says. Often it’s easier for someone else to pose tough questions or ask about other treatment options.

Problem 3: Your Doctor Discourages Second Opinions

Second opinions aren’t needed for everyday issues, but if you’re facing a potentially serious condition, a diagnosis is unclear, the condition is quite rare, or when a course of treatment isn’t straightforward or may be risky, having someone else weigh in is wise. Although it’s common to be concerned about second-guessing your doctor, remember that physicians consult colleagues all the time, Gilligan says.

“We understand the value of getting multiple heads thinking about a challenging case,” Gilligan says. If your doctor seems annoyed or offended, “then maybe there has been a misunderstanding or maybe he or she isn’t the right doctor for you.”

The Fix: Try asking your doctor for her recommendation on someone to see for a second opinion, suggests Orly Avitzur, M.D., Consumer Reports’ medical director. Or if you have a particular health care provider in mind, run it by your current doctor to help get her on board.

When seeing the second doctor, be sure to bring relevant test results so that tests aren't duplicated. Insurance usually covers second (and even third) opinions, but always double-check before you go.

Problem 4: The Doctor's Office Is Disorganized

Perhaps no one returns calls in a timely manner, it’s hard to get drug refills or test results, or the doctor always runs behind. “A disorganized office wastes your time, can result in poor care, and increases the likelihood of medical errors,” says Marvin M. Lipman, M.D., Consumer Reports’ chief medical adviser.

The Fix: Mention the problem to your doctor. “The doctor may not know everything about the front office, and you could be helping her,” Wen says. She may be able to address issues by having a staff member update patients on office wait times every 20 minutes, for instance.

If the receptionist or office manager seems receptive, ask him how to communicate efficiently—by secure email, perhaps—or whether you can book appointments and get test results and prescription refills via a patient portal.

If you’re tired of wasting time in the waiting room, try booking the first appointment of the day, or call the office before you go in for an appointment to get an ETA on wait times. And go out of your way to treat office staff well.

“When the front and back office staffs have a positive impression of you, it’s more likely they’ll go the extra mile to do something you need to have done,” Santa advises.

Problem 5: You Feel Your Doctor Doesn't Respect You

Does your physician “scold” you about your weight or your sedentary lifestyle? Or do you think she’s being patronizing because of your age? Unfortunately, research bears out the fact that some doctors judge patients negatively on the basis of age, gender, ethnic background, and more.

“Doctors are human, and we harbor implicit and unconscious biases,” Fiscella says.

And that may have an adverse effect on your care. For example, a 2015 review of studies published in Obesity Reviews noted, “Many health care providers hold strong negative attitudes and stereotypes about people with obesity. . . . These attitudes may impact the care they provide.”

The Fix: Keep in mind that you both have the same goal—your health—and she may not realize how her behavior or delivery affects you, or understand how challenging a health problem may be for you.

“When doctors feel patients aren’t doing their part, they may resort to these unfortunate tactics out of a sense of helplessness, not because they want to insult people,” Riess says.

But do let your doctor know that you feel criticized or dismissed. And if you’re struggling with a problem—for example, quitting smoking—ask whether she can recommend extra support, such as a structured smoking cessation program.

Problem 6: Your Doctor Withholds Information About Your Health

In some cases, a doctor may not fully discuss the costs or potential side effects of a medication or procedure, or may be uncomfortable about sharing bad news when a patient is dealing with a serious illness. A recent survey in Health Affairs reported that 55 percent of doctors said they had been more positive with patients about prognoses than was warranted and more than 10 percent of physicians had told patients something untrue in the previous year.

Though some of us may feel overwhelmed by medical details or negative news, not having the entire picture may lead you to stop taking a vital drug or ignore her advice. “When patients believe in their doctor, they have better results,” Santa says.

The Fix: Tell your doctor that you want to know about side effects, recovery periods, and more. “Doctors can’t always judge which patients want to know everything and which patients don’t,” Wen advises.