There are so many insightful stories out there about what happens when physicians experience life as a patient or family member. They always make sobering reading for everyone in health care. Over the years I’ve heard dozens of these stories from fellow physicians, describing experiences when they’ve unfortunately been sick themselves. It’s an inevitable fact of life for everyone that they will be the patient one day, but it’s often an especially life-changing experience for anyone who already works at the frontlines of medicine. Based on these experiences, here are 5 pieces of universal feedback:
1. Listening. It’s remarkable how often physicians as patients feel that they are not listened to. Imagine that most of the time as well, everyone knows that they are doctors — and it still comes across like that! This isn’t necessarily the fault of the hard-working medical professionals taking care of them, but more a consequence of the typical hectic and busy health care environment. Remembering the basics such as sitting down and talking face-to-face with your patients, not being distracted by the computer, and taking all complaints seriously (as most of them usually always are) goes a long way.
2. Brief time slot. Following on from the above, it’s amazing how little time doctors actually spend in direct patient care. A doctor may have dozens of patients to see, and can easily forget during a crazy workday that their patient may have waited several hours just to see them. It’s the part of the day that’s most important to them, and the patient will usually hang onto your every word. Even if a doctor is only in the room for 3 minutes, don’t forget how much those few minutes mean to your patient.
3. Ability to get rest. One of the most common complaints doctors hear when they walk into a room first thing in the morning, is that the patient couldn’t sleep at night. Often passed over with a shrug of the shoulders — not really too much we can do about the noise at night, either from outside the room or a noisy neighbor! But how it hits home when a doctor is a patient that the thing we need most when we’re sick is a decent rest.
4. Care coordination. This is something that all doctors, especially those in the generalist specialties, recognize as a huge problem. There are simply way too many cooks in the health care kitchen, a subject I’ve written about previously. It sometimes feels like the amount of specialists that see medically complex elderly patients could fill a small phone book. While most of these specialists are absolutely needed, it becomes a problem when neither the patient nor the family knows who the “captain of the ship” is, and they are getting mixed messages from every direction.
5. The bill. Doctors conscientiously go about their day and strive to give their patients the best possible care. We hardly spare a second thought for the cost of everything we’re prescribing and ordering. With the simple click of a mouse, a test costing several thousand dollars is ordered. Only when one receives a hospital bill, does one realize how crazy the prices are! Everything itemized down to the smallest band-aid. Likewise, the headaches our patients have to go through dealing with insurance companies is another thing that’s often hidden from doctors.
There are certainly many more observations that could be listed in addition to the above, but these are the most common. We all need to do better and improve patient experience in areas where we can. Regular feedback like this should give all health care leaders pause for thought.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of three books, including Thomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha. He is the founder and director, HealthITImprove, and blogs at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand.
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