“Customer #4, please step up to the counter. How may I help you today?” As a patient, have you ever felt that it seemed you were waiting in line at the deli department, listening for your number to be called? Sorry to say, the practice of medicine has evolved in this direction in the past couple of decades. Gone are the days when one could enter the physician’s office, and the staff knew you by your name and greeted you warmly, a time when you felt you were more than simply a number in the schedule of the day.
A patient is an individual who comes into the medical facility seeking medical help and/or advice from his/her physician, not a customer seeking to buy a product. This is a distinction that must be reaffirmed. As patients, we are often at some of the most vulnerable moments in our lives as we sit before you. Therefore, the relationship between doctor and patient should be considered more than a business transaction, more than simply the monetary exchange for a service.
With the corporatization of medicine, it seems the patient has become a small fish in a large pond. The objective has become how many patients a given doctor can see on a given day, and the line must be kept moving in and out of the exam room like a well-oiled machine. The cogs of the corporate machine must be kept in motion. Often there is a feeling that there are 3 people in the exam room: the patient, the doctor, and the clock on the wall. It seems there is no time to find out what motivates the patient, what obstacles he faces in maintaining his health, or what brings him the most joy to his life. As a result, both patients and doctors are frustrated.
Add to that, the computerization of health records or EHRs was supposed to be a time-saver for all involved and an access point for patient-related data, but instead, it became a wall between the patient-doctor interaction. It is an inanimate object competing with the patient for the doctor’s attention. The physician has to divide his/her time between the computer screen/ data entry and his patient, resulting in dissatisfaction for both the patient and physician alike.
Furthermore, during this time of COVID, the interaction between patients and physicians has been significantly impacted. For the safety of all, many patient visits have morphed into either Zoom sessions or telephone visits. The subtleties that may have been apparent to the physician during an in-person visit become now a bit more blurred. For the time being, the friendly handshake between doctor and patient is off-limits during these somewhat rare in-office visits. Patients and physicians must be masked, so only the eyes are an indicator of emotional connection. Doctors, please allow the opportunity for your patient to share what is most concerning for them, for it may very well be that there is much to be learned in the patient’s story, which can aid in your diagnosis. In the telling and the listening, a bond of trust is built between the two. This bond of trust is something that no one can affix a price tag.
Stress levels are running high for both physicians and patients alike during the times we are living in. Doctors, if diagnostic testing is advised for your patient, please make sure that your patient promptly receives results. Delays in reporting, especially now during the pandemic, can place an additional stress burden upon the patient in what is an already trying time.
Similarly, our physicians have been labeled as “providers.” By definition, a provider is one that makes something, such as a service, available. Harmless enough of a definition on the surface. However, it is a generic classification that has been placed on someone who has endured a multitude of years of medical training to attain the “doctor of medicine” degree. Does this seem appropriate? It is a clever way of allowing the physician to feel somewhat subservient to the corporate leaders who employ him and governmental agencies who regulate him. It is also a means of collectively grouping all those professions which supply medical care to the patient, further attempting to blur the distinctions between them. In an age when outliers have usurped much of the physician’s authority to decide how to best treat his patient, this is just one additional ploy to devalue the profession. Doctors, shouldn’t you justly call for the professional recognition you deserve, that of the title ” physician, medical doctor”?
Patient, “customer,” physician, “provider”: The terminology used to de-personalize and degrade a relationship that is much more than simply monetary payment for services rendered. Physicians, take back the title you have earned through your training, diligence, and extensive experience; patients ask that you are not considered in the same light as would one buying a pound of ground beef at the market. These distinctions are essential and important ones if we are to save this honored relationship.
Michele Luckenbaugh is a patient.
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