A partial excerpt from What Patients Want: Anecdotes and Advice.
To complement posts regarding what doctors wish their patients knew, here are some things that I as a patient wish doctors knew:
We’re not here for the magazines. We’re here because we’re sick, which often means we’re scared too.
We’re often embarrassed. You’re wearing clothes. We’re wearing a paper sack. Please be aware of that.
We know germs can thrive in a warm environment, but so can patients. There has to be a happy medium between killing the germs while not killing the patient. I don’t want to be adrift in a draft, if you get my drift.
As bad as your day might be, ours is not going great either; otherwise, we’d be at work, at school, on the tennis court, etc., and not crossing the threshold into a doctor’s office.
Your staff should not be the guard protecting you. They should relay our messages. We rely on that. If you, as a receptionist or nurse, tell me that the doctor doesn’t have time to see me, and then the doctor calls me at night, not knowing that I had been in the office, their cover is blown. Your staff reflects you.
Look up from your computer screen. I understand the requirement to enter codes, but if you look us in the eye, you’ll see more than cataracts: you’ll see fear, but if you’re lucky, you’ll see hope and determination too.
Remember that we all are people first, and doctor and patient second. If you know our spouse is sick, ask. Maybe it takes a minute out of your day, but it makes you more human. If I as a patient, knew that your spouse was sick, I’d ask, even if it took time out of my day.
You’ll learn from your patience and your patients. The more patience you have, the more patients you’ll have.
It’s a sign of respect when you knock on the door to the exam room, so, knock knock doc. (No knock knock joke needed.)
If there are alternatives to the painful procedure you’re suggesting, tell us, even if it’s not available in your hospital or in your practice. You might think that’s automatic, but it’s not.
Some of the most important information you have will NOT be in the EHR. It might be that my mom recently died of Alzheimer’s. That’s important on a personal level as much as a medical one. Maybe I’ll develop it in 25 years, but now, I’m not dealing with symptoms; I’m dealing with sadness.
Being a doctor and a patient are not mutually exclusive. One day you as a doc might be in my shoes (or in my paper sack) as a patient. I hope you’re treated with the respect that every patient deserves.
I known your time is valuable, but so is mine. I don’t mind waiting a long time to see you, but I don’t want to be given the short shrift if I do.
Say hello and say goodbye. If it’s your first time meeting a patient, introduce yourself. Again, you might think that goes without saying. It doesn’t. I’m just saying.
Now I’ll say goodbye.
R. Lynn Barnett is the author of What Patients Want: Anecdotes and Advice and My Mother has Alzheimer’s and My Dog Has Tapeworms: A Caregiver’s Tale.
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