The doctor-patient relationship is the foundation of healthcare.
Canadian Physician, William Osler once said “A good physician treats the disease, but a great physician treats the person” This is something that has stuck with me through years of medical school and something I hope to live by.
As a medical student, who is passionate about holistic healthcare, I believe that a huge strength of a good doctor is their ability to forge a relationship with the patient, one governed by trust and empathy. However, anecdotal and factual evidence suggests that the trust between the doctor and patients has been eroded. While we have progressed leaps and bounds in the fields of diagnostics, personalized healthcare and our general understanding of the human body, the relationship seems to have taken a setback. While it is easy to assign blame to the physician, the paucity of time, the administration and so on, it is a pointless exercise. The blame game, in my humble opinion, is one that needs to be retired for there is a dizzying list of people we can condemn, but that doesn’t solve the problem.
Several studies have revealed that the relationship between a doctor and patient is just as important as the information being shared (1). This includes both verbal and non-verbal communication. Effective communication has had proven implications on the outcome of healthcare in terms of pain control, emotional and psychiatric troubles and even physiological improvement. I believe that the reason this movement to improve the relationship has not reached the levels we had hoped, is because we focus on only one aspect. It takes two to make a relationship work, and here are some things we can all do.
What a doctor can do
The research on this part of the pie is extensive. Here are some points that I found valuable and informative.
Take a detailed, informed consent
Patient autonomy is the bedrock of healthcare. Yet, it is something that is often forgotten. Informed consent with clear descriptions of the benefits and drawbacks of any medication or procedure is crucial. A simple shift in asking as opposed to informing patients before performing any procedure can go a long way. It makes the patient feel like a valued contributor to their healthcare and can lead to better outcomes
Simplify the jargon!
My family members look foxed when I start spouting ‘medical jargon’ as they call it, so you can expect the same from a patient. Patients don’t understand words like right iliac fossa or haematochezia (blood in your stool), and it’s something we as medical students are so used to saying. As Einstein said, when you can explain something to a six-year-old – that’s when you know it. Ensure that the patient understands every detail of what is happening to them, it’ll go a long way.
Empathize with the patient
I cannot emphasise the importance of this enough. The most important thing to a patient is feeling invested in. For them to feel like you are concerned, involved and interested in their well-being can go a long way.
Treat every patient the same
When it comes to being a physician, you have to treat every patient in the same way regardless of their status, gender or appearances. As people, we often have preconceived notions about where someone might hail from, and this colours our interactions with them. Regardless of our personal biases, the physician’s chamber is considered a safe space and therefore we must make the patient feel cared for.
Present a united front
Every doctor in the world is a part of a fraternity, one that is bigger than us as individuals and one that is united by the shared goal of healing the community. Hence, we should make an effort to never malign any doctor, allopathic or otherwise, regardless of our thoughts. We must present a united front and it also makes the patient more trusting of the whole community.
What a patient can do
While the doctor part of the relationship has often been dissected and parsed through, it needs the patient’s contribution to be a true success. Even though this isn’t talked about much it needs to be said
Be open to trusting
I understand that trust in doctors has eroded. Whether it’s the media, quacks or perhaps mistakes we made to blame, it is something we need to overcome. If you enter a doctor’s room with no belief in his or her ability, it greatly hinders the process. If you trust WebMD over a white coat that hides years of struggle, then you’re fighting an uphill battle. spent over 10 years studying, to make lives better
Try to follow advice!
Doctors give you a long list of advice from diet to lifestyle, medication to sleep. They enforce changes that are often very difficult to make, like replacing everything you eat. But trust the process, every piece of advice has a reason. Give it an honest shot and follow it to the tee, I guarantee it’ll make a difference.
Every industry has its share of good and bad. Some doctors appeal to your personality and beliefs, while some may not. It helps to not generalize the feelings of dissatisfaction with one physician to the entire fraternity as it is difficult to break those barriers once set.
Try to see the other side of the coin
Healthcare is one of the hardest fields to work in because the expectations are enormous. Handling is human life is the greatest responsibly one can incur, and we do it daily. However, medicine is as much an art as it a science. We are yet to unlock many mysteries as each person’s anatomy and physiology is so different. There are some situations wherein spite of trying everything, the problem cannot be resolved. And in my country, India, there are reports of many incidents of heinous violence, social media slander and destruction of property against physicians who don’t deliver. And this is very disillusioning for budding doctors. I guess doctors are always viewed as a certain level of ‘perfect’ and this illusion needs to be broken. They are human beings too and deserve to be held responsible and accountable, but also to be treated well.
Just for once, ask you doctor how his/her day is going?
We need to find a new normal, perhaps one that is different from what was the norm before, as patients are lot more-savvy and well-informed today. We need to be relatable, engaging as well as well informed. However, it’s a two- way street, one that requires effort from both the doctor and the patient.
What do you think? Share your views below!
DISCLAIMER – These are my thoughts and views. It’s subject to variation in opinion.