No Substitute for Time


NaBloPoMo 2017: Field Notes From a Life in Medicine

Day 3

How much time do you spend with your doctor each time you see them?  Is it enough?  If they had more time to spend with you, how would you use it?  Would it be better?

I’m too tired and it’s too late tonight to discuss the myriad factors that erode the patient-physician relationship, and thus our medical system in general.  But time comes to mind often for me, and I wonder if patients are as frustrated about it as I am.

Where I work now, I pretty much have as much time as I want with people.  It’s a sweet gig.  I can ask them about their work, their families, their interests.  I have time to listen to the answers, and even connect those with my observations about their health.  The most interesting parts of my interviews are the social history.  What do they spend their days doing at work?  What problems do they solve, who do they interact with, and what brings them meaning at the place where they spend the majority of waking weekday hours?  Then what do they do for fun, what’s life like outside of work?  I get to know my patients as individual, whole people, which I love, and that makes me look forward to every day at work with joy.

But time is not just good for me, for my professional fulfillment.   It’s good for patients, too.  When I spend time asking the important questions, putting together pieces of a person’s symptom puzzle, and do a directed exam, I’m more likely to come to a correct diagnosis and make an appropriate and specific care plan.  When I take the time to explain my rationale, decision process, and possible outcomes and follow up, my patients are more likely to feel seen, heard, and reassured.  They are more likely to stick with the plan and contact me if things change.  The next time they need help, they are more likely to call me and we have another chance to know each other better.

When the physician-patient relationship flourishes, we’re all healthier.

I love this article on The Health Care Blog, which essentially validates the time I take to talk to my patients.  My favorite line:  “More information about the value of a physician-patient encounter will always be found in the content of their communication than in what they ultimately do. The difference in… physicians’ behaviors will not be found in any database, electronic medical record, or machine-learning algorithm. I have yet to see data on the contextual information from a history of the present illness in any data set or quality improvement initiative.”

You may also be interested in this article, describing the origin of the 15 minute clinic visit, and why it really doesn’t make sense.

What do you think about physicians and patients advocating together to change this aspect of our flawed medical system? I know it’s complicated, requiring a hard look at our billing and compensation processes, as well as our productivity-driven, fee-for-service medical culture.  I still think it’s worth pursuing.  There is no substitute for time.  We must protect and defend it; our health depends on it.

10 thoughts on “No Substitute for Time

  1. Hi Cathy! Wonderful analysis/article. Sending/sharing with our medical team at managed health provider Kaiser Permanente (which has in recent times severely limited this kind of quality time in general! Thanks, Sharon & Jerry Summers

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Summers! It seems simple, and yet our system makes it so complicated. I have hope, though. I am convinced that if patients and physicians can unify with a common voice and platform, we can then affect real positive change. ONward!


  2. Great post. I once was a social worker in a busy hospital and quit after 5 months. I thought I’d actually get to talk to patients, create a relationship, do some good support work. Silly me! If I spent more than about ten minutes assessing and planning for discharge, I was reprimanded for wasting time. I felt like I was just pushing people out the door, regardless of need. Taking time to care for folks means more than patting them on the back as you wave goodbye. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Stacey, and thank you for sharing your experience. It makes me sad to read it, because I always thought that at least social workers had more time than I had in the hospital. The more stories I hear and read, the more I am convinced that our medical system really serves no one well, even those who profit from it, because even they are constantly in fight-or-flight mode, deathly fearful of losing, be it market share, revenue, or reputation. Medicine and health should be a joyful, collaborative, community effort wherein we all do our best to help ourselves and each other. But instead our system so often feels like everybody for themselves, “eat what you kill”, kill or be killed, eat or be eaten. Tragically ironic.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Eat What You Kill | Healing Through Connection

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