Is that a line from a movie? No, it’s assignment #4 for Blogging 101, “Identify Your Audience: Publish a post you’d like your ideal audience member to read, and include a new-to-you element in it.” Okay, here goes!
Welcome back, how was your week? What phenomenal doctor-patient encounters did you experience, witness, or hear about since we last met? What made them so? Or maybe they were less than stellar… I wouldn’t be surprised, unfortunately. What made them so, and what can be done to make them better?
If you think the physician-patient relationship plays an essential role in our healthcare system and patients’ overall wellness, please read on. If you think this relationship also plays a central role in physician wellness, welcome! So do I. Maybe you are a physician. Most likely you have been a patient, or a patient’s family member, somewhere along the way. I know you could be both. It doesn’t matter, if you think the physician-patient relationship is important, and you want to help make it better for yourself and others, then I’m writing to you!
For a moment, think of our healthcare system as a vast, dense forest on a dark, moonless night. It’s early fall in the Rockies, crisp and chilly tonight. You are either the physician or the patient, and you are here alone, tasked with finding your counterpart, somewhere else in the forest. Maybe you’ve never been here before, and you’re scared. You’ve only heard about it, or walked through in virtual simulations. Maybe you’ve hiked here many times already, and feel quite confident–cocky, even. But every encounter in this forest is unique. Insurance plans, drug formularies, government regulations, and technology can alter the topography like lightning strikes and wildfires–and almost as quickly.
The objective is to find your way to each other, and then journey together to the place in the forest where at least the patient can camp in health. If you really work well together, then the doctor will also find solace in that spot. What would that look like? What will you need?
You’ll need to identify dangers in the forest–most of which you cannot control. They will affect you both in different ways, and it will help if you know the potential consequences ahead of time, for yourself as well as the other. You’ll need to learn each other’s strengths, vulnerabilities, tendencies, and talents. You’ll need to know your own needs and limits, and those of your partner. And wouldn’t it be great if you had a map and a plan?
I have just described the ideal physician-patient relationship. How can we do all of this? With tools, I say! We would never enter a forest to camp at night without the appropriate gear. So why do we so often enter the physician-patient relationship in this way? Until very recently, physicians received almost no formal training on effective communication and interpersonal skills. I think we were expected either to be thusly gifted by virtue of being smart enough to get into medical school, or to ‘pick it up’ along the way. I also think patients’ expectations today vary so widely based on personal experience and circumstances, that sometimes it’s a miracle that we understand each other at all.
The tools I explore in this blog–mindfulness, compassion, empathy, reflective listening, patience, self-awareness, stress-management, collaboration, and others—are intended for patient and physician campers alike, but only the ones truly interested in achieving the objective above—finding one another, walking together, and finding the best place for both parties to set up camp and stay a while.
I seek fellow campers! Tell me your stories! Show me the tools that work for you! What have you learned? What advice have you for our frightened novices or frustrated (disillusioned, burned out, cynical) elders? Let us find one another, clear our own authentic spaces in the dark forest, and build our campsites intentionally, deliberately, with respect for one another and the forest ecosystem. Once we have our eco-friendly doctor-patient camps firmly established, maybe we can start to clean up the litter and pollution in the forest, too—but that might be another blog…
As a RN of 31 years, I love your passion for your subject! The analogy you’ve used here is spot-on! Fabulously written! I have worked in critical care and been a director of nursing, but currently work as the only nurse in a multi-provider practice. I look forward to future blogs!
Thank you so much! I would love to hear (read) stories of your observations and experiences both now and in the ICU. The latter is a truly unique environment–the potential for instant bonds between care team and patient/family is much higher, as is the risk for instant conflict…
I have visited your blog–YUMMO!! The photos make me hungry! I look forward to reading more if yours, too. 😊
I am not a healthcare professional, I am a patient. I have encountered doctors on both ends of the spectrum you describe above. One who was rushed, matter-of-fact, cold and another who was a warm, caring, giver of time. My experience with the latter was preferable, I remember her compassion and soft words rather than her need to push patients along the conveyor belt.
You are tackling a subject that will hopefully be close to many people’s hearts. I commend you.
Thank you, Nicola! The positive feedback means a lot. Thanks for reading! 😊
Your writing is a pleasure to read, I loved the symbolism of the forest. I hope to learn a lot from you, both about healthcare from a doctor’s perspective and about creating beautiful prose.
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Our medical system in New Zealand is quite different to yours in the USA, but I’m sure the same problems exist with the patient/GP relationship. Fortunately, though, not in my case. I have two GPs – they share a practice. I like that idea because it makes me think they have a good work/life balance, which will be reflected in my care. If I feel I need a sympathetic ear, I book an appointment with Jan. If I just want a quick fix, no fuss, I book an appointment with Rachel. I find them both excellent practitioners. They explain things in terms I understand and have never seemed in a rush to get me out the door. Which is great, because I tend to ‘save up’ medical problems and often take a list with me.
Thanks, Kay! This helps, because I had never heard of the golf courses you write about–now I know why! My husband recently toured the UK, Australia and New Zealand. He described his understanding of the healthcare systems there, compared to here. Different systems, different issues, advantages and disadvantages… But at the end of the day, if you can trust your doctor, you’re already ahead, no?
Definitely. I seldom go to the doctor because I always think there’s probably nothing serious wrong with me, and I don’t want to waste their time. So it’s really reassuring to me that they are never impatient and actually seem pleased to see me. Paying my bill promptly might have something to do with that… 🙂
Dear Catherine 🙂
How have you been?
Your article brings many important points. I feel it’s most neglected part of medicare because most of the modern science is still unaware of power of LOVE. When a patient is heard–when he feels nurtured by personal and empathic touch–the medicines work magically well.
It’s also true that such care can’t be given unless the doctor himself is mindful, peaceful and connected to the life source. I feel you are a pioneer in your field. It’s a wonderful cause you are working for and your writing style is so friendly–walking together and analogy of forest are so apt.
i look forward.
Happy blogging 🙂
Thank you, Anand! Ooo, pioneer, that’s cool. They were brave and creative people, the pioneers. 😉 And, they stuck together and made life better for one another. I’m happy to know fellow pioneers like you and our Blogging 101 classmates–keeps this pioneer’s soul fed, for sure. 🙂
Today I met my new primary care provider. I’ve been in mourning for a couple of years since my former doc retired. Our parents farmed near each other. He and I rode the same school bus. He *knew* me. But, more than that, he listened and asked thoughtful questions. He never rushed our appointments. I had a relationship with him.
My new PCP is a nurse practitioner (yaay!), and I think we’ll get along fine. But when I told her I was an atheist, she said she’d pray for me. Ugh. This doesn’t need to be a deal-breaker, though. Communication, patience and education–that’s what I’ll take with me next time instead of my medication list.
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Thank you so much for visiting, and for your encouraging and insightful comments! “Holy Healer, Batman!” That made my day!
I have visited your blog, also, and I admire you very much. Your description of the mental, emotional,and physical experiences at the different stages of mania and depression are best I have ever read. And your comments make it clear that you are a student of the Inner Work. We are sisters in that. 🙂
Thank you so much for connecting, and I look forward to sharing more with you! Best wishes!
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Thanks so much for sharing. I love the analogy, by the way, and I think it’s spot on. Through all of my mom’s health crises, we’ve been blessed with an amazing PCP who’s stuck with my mom for the past fifteen years. I’d say the two things I’m most grateful for in our relationship are honestly and trust. He’s proven that he really cares about my mom, and that he’s invested in helping her live a happy and healthy life. He also is completely honest with us. When he doesn’t know the answer or if something isn’t good news, he just tells us. I know this kind of honesty can be hard for physicians. After all, they’re under a lot of pressure to have all the answers, but I respect him and trust him more for allowing us to see his limitations and his concerns. I know he’ll never B.S. us, and if he needs to send us to see someone else in order to ensure my mom will receive the best possible care, he will. He doesn’t claim to be perfect, just a dedicated care provider, and we wouldn’t trade him for any other PCP in the world. 🙂 Thanks again for sharing. I think it’s an awesome thing that you’re doing with this blog!
Thank you for sharing, and I’m so glad your mom’s doctor is so supportive and kind. Please let him know how much you appreciate him, and tell him what you wrote here–the things he *does* that make him so great! 🙂
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