Dr. Dawn Buse discusses how patients can establish a strong doctor-patient relationship with their healthcare professional

Many people living with migraine consider a neurologist an essential member of their migraine support team and lean on them for understanding and medical advice. Dr. Dawn Buse is a Clinical Professor of Neurology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University and Assistant Professor in the Clinical Health Psychology Doctoral Program of Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology. AMF recently sat down with Dr. Buse to discuss the importance of establishing a good relationship with your neurologist.

Finding the Right Doctor for You

When meeting a new healthcare professional for the first time, patients should always remember to trust their gut. “When you are first meeting a new healthcare professional, see how you feel,” she says. “In particular, ask yourself if you feel heard, respected and that they are taking your preferences, goals, history and values into account.”

To make sure what’s most important to you is addressed, come prepared with a list of your top three questions or concerns. “Give them the list at the beginning of the appointment to make sure that your most important questions are answered and that time is allotted to talk about your biggest concerns,” Dr. Buse says. “You have every right, as a patient, to feel heard and respected. And if you communicate your goals and preferences, you are more likely to have the better outcomes that you deserve.”

If you don’t get a good feeling from your healthcare professional or feel as if your questions and concerns are not being addressed, don’t be afraid to keep searching. “Like any good relationship, the healthcare professional-patient relationship should be a team effort where decisions are made together through open, honest communication.  This is your body; this is your life,” Dr. Buse says. “You are in the driver’s seat, and you need to clearly communicate your wishes. Hopefully, this will facilitate open and honest communication, but if not, you have the right to find a different healthcare professional who will engage in a partnership with you.”

Establishing a Successful Doctor-Patient Relationship

As with any relationship, Dr. Buse says the most important thing is open communication. “The doctor-patient relationship is a relationship, just like any other,” she says. “It’s really important that there is open, honest communication and mutual respect. Not only should the patient feel respected, but the healthcare professional should also feel respected.”

Once solid communication has been established, Dr. Buse recommends patients work with their healthcare professional to establish expectations, which could be done through a treatment contract. Doctors should tell patients what they expect the patient to do, and patients should understand the role their doctor will play in the management of their migraine.

Dr. Buse adds that one way you can facilitate communication is by bringing necessary information with you to your appointment. This can include anything that the healthcare professional asks for as well as a headache diary—which can include the number of migraine attacks and days with headache that you had in the previous month—the number of days you took medication and notes about potential triggers like stress, sleep, menstrual cycle or environmental changes. Bring a list of current and past treatments and your responses to those treatments to your first visit and a list of your top questions that you want to make sure are addressed during the visit.

For more suggestions, check out this AMF article on preparing for your first visit with a headache specialist. It is important to know that different types of visits may be different lengths of time (whether it is an initial visit, follow-up or procedure), so let the office staff know that you would like time for discussion during the visit, and they may be able to help schedule a longer visit or a follow-up visit if necessary.

Advocating for Yourself

People living with migraine should speak up and advocate for themselves. If you’ve heard about a treatment option you would like to discuss and your healthcare professional doesn’t seem willing to explore certain treatment options, don’t be afraid to voice your concerns. “You have every right to ask questions and make treatment decisions together,” Dr. Buse says.

If you are interested in trying a new migraine treatment whether it is a medication or non-medication treatment, first educate yourself and then bring the information to your appointment to discuss with your healthcare professional. “Be open and honest with your healthcare professional about your preferences, and he or she should listen to and incorporate that into your treatment plan,” Dr. Buse says.

To find a healthcare professional in your area, consult our find a doctor tool. You can also visit our doctor-verified resource library for additional information on everything from determining an effective migraine treatment plan to the value of a headache specialist.