Who Are You and Why Have You Come?

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…