A physician’s plea to patients

I am a cardiac anesthesiologist. I meet most patients I care for minutes before I take them to the operating room and render them unconscious. I breathe for them, administer pain medicine and drugs to give them amnesia, and I keep their hearts, lungs, kidneys, and brains working.

Pretty important stuff.

I want to speak on behalf of physicians.

I want all patients to know something: We need you to talk to us.

We need you to speak to us like we are real humans, not demi-Gods. Not superheroes. People, just like you.

We, as physicians, work for you. You are our life’s work. Yet many days, it is easy to lose sight of this. The ever-growing list of paperwork, checks and balances, and administrative demands challenge us to stay focused on the real work we do.

So we rush.

And we talk fast.

And we use words that don’t make sense to you.

So here is a Physician’s Plea:

  • If we speak in terminology you don’t understand, tell us.
  • If we say you need a test and you don’t know why, tell us.
  • If we seem in a hurry and we fail to clearly explain things, tell us.
  • If we tell you to take a medicine and you don’t know why, tell us.
  • If you are scared, tell us.
  • If we were rude to you, or a team member was, tell us.
  • If you don’t feel safe, tell us.
  • If you don’t think we understand your symptoms, tell us.
  • If you are hurting, tell us.
  • If you are confused about your treatment, tell us.
  • If you think you may have something wrong that we are missing, tell us.

When we are not being what you need, please tell us.

As a physician, I have been involved in several situations where an error has been made. We are humans, working on humans, and sometimes systems and processes break down. A wrong dose of medicine is ordered. A drug or test is mislabeled. I can tell you of all the times I’ve been involved in these situations, it was never one person who caused the error. Most of the time it was what we refer to as the “Swiss cheese model of error” – a bunch of small holes, or small missteps, which result in a large error. In almost every medical error I have been associated with, it has been because someone miscommunicated something, didn’t speak up, or assumed something. Communication failure results in errors in all professions, not just medicine.

There is no worse feeling, however, than knowing a patient knew something or was feeling a certain way, and you as his or her physician missed it.

We work for you. We want you to tell us when we are missing something or when we fail. We want to improve ourselves, our health systems, and our care of you. We need you to tell us when we fall short, when you don’t feel trust, or when we miss something.

Do not be afraid to talk to your doctors or your nurses or health care providers. We are humans, just like you. We have families and hobbies and senses of humor, and we have struggles. We need you to talk to us like you talk to your friend.

We work for you. Please help us to work better. We aren’t perfect, but we care immensely, and you are what keeps us connected in this hectic field. We chose a career in medicine to serve YOU.

Please help us serve you better.

Sasha K. Shillcutt is an anesthesiologist who blogs at Brave Enough.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

View 6 Comments >

Most Popular

✓ Join 150,000+ subscribers
✓ Get KevinMD's most popular stories