Bilateral empathy lowers patient expectations

Generally speaking, patients and physicians are working towards good health. While many patient expectations can be unreasonable, others are practical; this article amalgamates them. Can you identify the absurd demands?

But multiply half of the listed expectations by hundreds or thousands of patients, and we begin to understand why there is such a high rate of physician burnout. Bilateral empathy lowers expectations.

Bedside manner. Don’t accept a walk-in patient and leave us waiting an extra 20 minutes. Greet us with a smile, even if a recent patient succumbed to illness. Don’t be afraid to touch us because we have diseases. Don’t touch us until you scrub in. Sanitize your stethoscope before pressing it to our skin. Don’t ask us the same questions the nurse asked 5 minutes ago. Don’t assume anything we said to the nurse is the real purpose for our visit. Don’t rattle off a long list of questions while gazing at a computer display. Don’t lead us to believe you will research answers to our problems with no intention of doing anything until our follow-up appointment a month later.

Diagnosis. Don’t tell us we are fine when we are miserable. Don’t mistake treatment for diagnosis. Don’t talk over our heads; use pertinent visual aids. Don’t make up a diagnosis to appease us. Don’t look at us like we are crazy because we have numerous symptoms. Don’t blame the patient for the disease. Don’t act like you know what is wrong with us when you haven’t a clue. Don’t rely on your expertise when a colleague has the answer. Don’t tell us to stay away from the Internet and then prove you are less knowledgeable than Dr. Google. Don’t label us “difficult patients” because we have an opinion.

Treatment. Give us something for our pain without side effects. Don’t recommend a procedure simply because it is your favorite to perform. Don’t blame us when your recommended treatment doesn’t work. Stop trying another medicine; pick the right one. Use a targeted approach, not broad-spectrum antibiotics. Don’t lead us on when you don’t know where to go. We want pain-free rehabilitation. Don’t have us cope with disability; eliminate it. Give us strength without exercise. Give us hope when there is none. Don’t prescribe medications or perform procedures without following up to see if they work.

Availability. When we call, pick up the phone. When we say we would like to make an appointment, we mean today, not two months from now. Don’t go on vacation when we are sick. Don’t reply to our emails by saying, “We will talk about it on your next appointment.” Don’t tell us the non-contact annual exam is over after a tap on a keyboard to order a blood test. Don’t refer us to another physician because we seem like too much of a bother.

Costs. Lower the cost while improving the quality of health care. Remember individual copayment costs for each patient; what may be $5 for one is $500 for another. Don’t stop us in the hallway and ask us to read a line of text 20 feet away and then send an extra $80 invoice for an eye exam. Don’t order costly imaging and then say you can’t read an MRI. Don’t draw vials of blood without performing the correct lab tests. Don’t have us pay the receptionist a $200 copayment and later send a bill for thousands of dollars. Don’t charge us for a procedure if it doesn’t work. Don’t neglect us because we report you to medical administrators.

Termination. Don’t regard our deaths as opportunities to work another patient into your schedule. Don’t look relieved after we’re gone. Don’t greet the next patient with a smile. Don’t lose your sanity trying to keep up with our demands. All we want is perfection. Is this too much to ask?

Kevin R.R. Williams blogs at ClinicalPosters.com and can be reached on Twitter @ClinicalPosters.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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