4 Things some doctors still get wrong

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on March 5, 2012 at 7:00 AM

One of the greatest benefits of being a physician is that since I can handle most of my routine healthcare needs myself I rarely have to be a patient in another doctor’s office. However, on those few occasions when I have consulted another doctor for advice I have had rather disappointing experiences.

During my years in medical practice I have heard a lot of complaints from patients about other doctors and sadly I have found that most of those complaints are true. I know that doctors are heavily educated in the sciences and receive little training in communication, but it seems shocking to me that in the 21st century doctors have not yet recognized the importance of the doctor-patient relationship.

As part of the movement to reform healthcare, streamline our system and improve cost-effectiveness I believe that physician behavior must be overhauled as well. Here are four negative tendencies of some doctors that should be changed:  

1. They don’t listen. This is the most common complaint I hear from patients about other doctors and it was my experience, as well, when I was briefly a patient. Studies have shown that in the average office visit the patient is allowed to speak for no more than 18 seconds before the physician interrupts! From that point on, the physician controls the conversation by asking directed questions and limiting the time the patient has to respond. One problem with this behavior is that the physician may miss critical information that the patient was hoping to convey, leading to misdiagnosis and inappropriate treatment at times. Not to mention the fact that the patient feels frustrated and uncared for when his or her story has not been heard.

2. They don’t establish a relationship with the patient. Studies have shown that patients are far less likely to sue a doctor who makes a mistake in their care if they feel they have a relationship with the doctor. Yet some doctors have difficulty connecting with patients and do not communicate well with them. This leads to poor patient compliance with treatment, decreased patient satisfaction and poorer outcomes. Empathy and communication are vital to establishing productive doctor-patient relationships.

3. They don’t treat the patient as a whole person. Some doctors treat only the patient’s physical symptoms and ignore the mind, Spirit and Shadow influences on health. They miss the fact that disturbances in the psyche and soul can manifest as physical symptoms even when there is no physical disease present. Trying to diagnose a condition while looking at only the physical body is like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle when you are missing 75% of the pieces - you will never have an accurate perception of the picture.

4. They don’t discuss end-of-life issues in a timely manner. A new study has shown that discussions between patients and their doctors about options for care at the end-of-life are not occurring until late in the course of the illness, when it is often too late to make well-thought-out decisions. Doctors should be initiating this discussion with all older patients as well as those who are terminally ill in order to facilitate the best possible care at the end-of-life that meets the patients’ needs. This will help avoid unnecessary or futile care during the last weeks of life. 

Being a physician is not an easy job and I certainly understand the stresses and demands that all of my colleagues in this profession experience. However, there is no excuse for providing thoughtless, compassionless care to patients – that behavior decreases cost-effectiveness, efficacy, and patient and physician satisfaction. I know we doctors can do a better job and it is time that we reform our own behavior. Future posts will discuss each of these issues in greater detail and present ideas for 

Categories: Healthcare, Relationships, Current Events

Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

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