How having a good relationship with your doctor can benefit your long-term health

Image of primary care doctor talking to patient and holding their hand

Along with staying physically active and eating a healthy diet, there’s something else you can do to take care of your health: establish a strong, long-term relationship with your primary care physician.

Having a doctor who knows you can make a big difference in the quality of your care, said UChicago Medicine Medical Group family medicine physician Paulo Aranas, MD*. A physician who sees the bigger picture of your overall health can ensure better communication and treatment that's more personalized to your specific needs.

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“As a regular provider for that patient, you know what’s been going on,” Aranas said. “It’s easy to miss some details when you don’t see the patient all the time or they’re in an urgent care setting.”

Aranas recalled seeing a woman in her 40s with numerous chronic conditions, some of which caused chest pain. The patient said that when she went to a different doctor, who was not her primary care physician, she felt that staff didn’t take her symptoms seriously because of her age.

“They may have been dismissive because they think she’s too young for a heart attack or stroke,” Aranas said. “But when she comes to our clinic, because I know her, I know if the chest pains are different or not.”

After examining her, he was able to reassure her that her symptoms were caused by her underlying conditions, not a heart attack.

Personalized advice and treatment

Having a long-term relationship with your primary care physician can be particularly helpful for older patients, who often have many doctors and specialists on their care team.

In these situations, the primary care physician can help provide oversight, consolidating all the information the patient is receiving and helping to explain it in plain language.

“It’s especially important for managing chronic conditions, because they’re not going away anytime soon,” Aranas said.

We’re not here to judge. We want to help you figure out the issue, and then we’ll try to solve it together.

A provider who knows you and your condition can lead to better communication and compliance. You’re more likely to have been part of the discussion about the best approach, and thus have more trust in your doctor’s advice.

“I think it’s easier for patients to understand and manage their disease if they are a part of the treatment plan rather than the target of the treatment plan,” he said.

Aranas practices weight loss medicine in addition to being a primary care physician at UChicago Medicine Orland Park and UChicago Medicine at Ingalls - Tinley Park. He says he likes building relationships with his patients because it helps him provide more personalized advice and treatment.

“Maybe I know this person likes the bike but not the treadmill, and they like keto but not low carb,” he said. “It’s easier to adjust management if something’s not working, and they’re not as resistant to suggestions, because they know you and they know that you know the situation.”

Knowledge of your health history

That was the case with Shannon Martin, 40, a patient of Aranas who liked him so much that when he moved from her local hospital to UChicago Medicine at Ingalls - Tinley Park, she tracked him down and followed him, even though it meant a farther drive.

“It’s worth it,” she said. “He’s pretty awesome.”

Aranas had initially been caring for Martin's mother; when Martin needed a new doctor, she became his patient as well. She had been seeing him for a few years when she began having stomach problems, including pain, heartburn and digestive issues. She had also gained some weight and noticed a dip in her energy.

Aranas suggested a medication for weight loss that boosts metabolism, as well as taking regular probiotic and fiber supplements. Because of their long relationship, Martin trusted him and did her best to follow the treatment plan.

The treatment worked, and Martin began seeing results within a few weeks, noticing an improvement in her digestion and energy, and losing the excess weight.

“At our first follow-up appointment, he was like, ‘Wow!’” she recalled. “He said, ‘If I was a teacher, I’d give you an A-plus’.”

Martin felt that, because Aranas knew her and her health history, he was able to zero in on the treatment that would be most helpful to her. She also appreciated his open communication, including being able to message him through his patient portal when she had questions or wanted to share her success.

“Even in his messages, he’d be like, ‘Good job!’ and use multiple exclamation points,” she said. “You can just tell he cares.”

Judgement-free conversation

In fact, medicine has long been based around relationships, Aranas noted.

“Doctors forget that in the olden days we didn’t have all this technology and medication,” he said. “The doctor would go to your house, talk to you, reassure you, and kind of hold your hand. And that actually goes a long way in my practice.”

Doctors can build rapport with patients by taking time to listen, not rushing appointments, and focusing on what's bothering the patient most, even if the doctor has more concerns about other symptoms or issues.

“It’s about starting the conversation,” he said. “We can move on to the other issues when the person comes back.”

For patients, it’s important to be open and communicate your concerns.

Aranas noted that it can be common for patients to think of doctors as authority figures, and worry about being judged or scolded for things like not complying with the treatment plan or eating foods they’re not supposed to. In the worst case scenario, patients may even lie or hold back important information to avoid “getting in trouble” with their doctor.

Aranas said trust is a two-way street.

“You’re not going to the principal — more like the guidance counselor,” he said. “We’re not here to judge. We want to help you figure out the issue, and then we’ll try to solve it together.”

*UChicago Medicine Medical Group is comprised of UCM Care Network Medical Group, Inc. and Primary Healthcare Associates, S.C. UChicago Medicine Medical Group providers are not employees or agents of The University of Chicago Medical Center, The University of Chicago, UChicago Medicine Ingalls Memorial, UChicago Medicine Orland Park, or UChicago Medicine at Ingalls - Tinley Park.

Paul Aranas

Melchor Paulo Aranas, MD

Melchor Paulo Aranas, MD, is a UChicago Medicine Medical Group physician board certified in both family medicine and obesity medicine.

Learn more about Dr. Aranas

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