Your doctor can be a Harvard-educated, Nobel Peace Prize-winning genius, but if he has lousy bedside manner, chances are, your relationship is doomed – and your health may not fare much better.

Dozens of studies show that patients have better health outcomes when their physicians are effective, empathetic communicators. “Being able to talk to your doctor builds trust. And when you trust your doctor, you’re more likely to follow their instructions. That markedly increases your odds of having a good outcome,” says Allan Hamilton, MD, professor of neurosurgery at the University of Arizona in Tucson and author of The Scalpel and the Soul: Encounters with Surgery, the Supernatural, and the Healing Power of Hope (Tarcher/Penguin, 2008).

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education now lists communication as a core competency skill for residents, and most medical schools now instruct their students on patient communication. The trouble is, it can be difficult for physicians to implement the skills they learn, says Catherine Lucey, MD, professor of internal medicine and vice chair for education at the Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus.

“Every doctor goes to medical school with the intent of helping people, and I think almost every doctor wakes up in the morning with that same level of commitment,” says Dr. Lucey. “But unfortunately, our current medical system poses many barriers that prevent physicians from providing the care they intend to.”

Chief among communication barriers, says Dr. Lucey, is a lack of time. “Doctors today have to see dozens of patients in a single day, and if one takes more time than he or she allotted, that cuts down on the face-time the doctor has with her next patients.”

Dr. Lucey notes that patients feel better if doctors aren’t in a rush – and when patients have more time, “they can get to the heart of matters that provide the physician with crucial information that can influence treatment.”

Need proof? We spoke to five inspiring people with arthritis and the amazing physicians who’ve made a difference in their health. Read on to learn what they’ve discovered so you’ll be able to find a great doctor or improve your relationship with your current one.