I’m speed dating my doctor

I’ve been single for nearly a decade. A career-driven professional, juggling parenting, PTA, and post-graduate studies, my time is precious.

But there’s something about this season — the heart-shaped Valentines and assorted chocolates — that has a way of evoking a longing for love. So this year, bowing to the goading of friends and against my better judgment, I decided to do something I never — never — thought I’d try.

I went speed dating.

Let me disabuse you of the notion that I’m the speed dating type. I debate the ACA over jasmine green tea, more comfortable in yoga pants than Donna Karen. I’m the girl at the cocktail party cornered with a guest or two, enjoying a meandering conversation about the nuance of language choices in the latest State of the Union.

I don’t do speed dating; I do relationships.

Yet there I was.

Entering the hotel ballroom, I — along with dozens like me — was assigned a table, where I was greeted by a (at this point, a quite welcome) bottle of wine and list of names. When the buzzer sounded, a man sat down, with whom I had exactly ten minutes to chat before another buzzer cued the next prospect. This went on for well over an hour.

“Do you work out?”

“What’s your favorite food?”

“Are you close with your dad?”

There was the bespectacled techie — whose name I cannot recall — who spent our encounter with his eyes glued to his phone. The venture capitalist dressed in a worn Star Wars t-shirt and blazer, who usurped our time with tales of his ex. And the professional dog walker — Joel, maybe? — who boasted of his anti-vax stance after I shared that I’d been working in health care advocacy for the last ten years.

By the time the night came to a close, I was left feeling exhausted and disengaged.

The next morning, I woke early for my annual physical.

Entering the clinic, I was welcomed by the receptionist and directed to take a seat. The nurse — Rebecca? — soon summoned me to the back, where she asked a few questions, took my blood pressure, and left me to disrobe. Within minutes, another member of the care team — oh, what was his name? — popped in to ask a few more questions, busily typing my responses into his tablet before exiting. The doctor then arrived. Eyes fixed on the computer screen, she ran through several more questions.

“Do I exercise?”

“Can you tell me about your diet?”

“Are your parents still living?”

She left, then returned with Rebecca — or maybe it was Rachel? — for my physical exam.

And then, laying on the table, it hit me: I’m speed dating my doctor.

Five minutes with one nameless member of the care team and then six with another. A few rudimentary questions. A couple handshakes. Eyes on screens.

By the time the appointment came to a close, I was exhausted and disengaged. And aside from a few instructions offered, there was no connection. No exchange of dialogue that indicated I’d been heard. No meaningful conversation about how my long hours at the office are affecting my health. And that pain in my lower back never did come up. Nothing.

Did I mention I’m not the speed dating type?

Even more striking to me, as I reflected on that realization, was that if I was left feeling that detached after just an hour, how must it feel for my provider? Day after day, increasingly focused on data entry over deep engagement. Episodic, transactional care takes its toll. It’s dehumanizing – this series of interactions – eyes on computers and names lost in shuffles.

And we’re surprised physicians are burning out?

So to the docs out there this Valentine’s Day: I’m a single, white, female looking for a connection. I love long walks on the beach, 30 minutes a day, five times a week. I don’t smoke, but I do drink a daily glass of red (y’know, for my heart).

And I’d love — really love — a meaningful relationship with my health care provider.

Elizabeth Métraux is director of marketing and communications, Primary Care Progress

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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