When you think about going to the doctor, what is one of your biggest pet peeves?
Waiting to be called? Having to fill out forms over and over? I could put together an extensive list but in the end what is most important to me is my relationship with my physician. It really gets under my skin when I hear a story of an interaction with a doctor that shows the patient was clearly not respected as a person. In a new era of healthcare, we are beginning to think of our care like any other product or service. We want the best.
So, if we want the best in care, why should we settle for a doctor who doesn’t give us what we consider to be the best level of care?
In the last few weeks, I have had two medical appointments with two new physicians. One was a wonderful experience and the other the exact opposite. My guess is anyone reading this has had the same experience at one time or another. Unfortunately, this is the state of healthcare these days, an inconsistent not always patient-centered medical experience.
My first appointment was with a surgeon who I went to see to address a late effect from past surgery for my breast cancer. He walked into the room and within seconds I felt his warmth, compassion and we made a personal connection. He listened to me, my concerns, feelings and we talked about various options. He was honest, sincere and validated my emotions. After the appointment, I processed all the information and was easily able to reach out to him with new questions and he responded quickly. I felt fortunate to have found him.
Two weeks later I went to a different medical office to see a specialist about a pain I had in my arm from playing golf. I thought maybe I had tendonitis or golfer’s elbow. The physician entered the room and introduced himself and within a few minutes, I found him slightly abrasive. He was talking at me, did an exam and gave me his diagnosis, which was not tendonitis but a condition having to do with my muscle and my radial nerve (similar to carpal tunnel). Everything he explained lined up with my symptoms. The treatment included rest from the repetitive motion of golf and a wrist brace to wear at night.
As the appointment neared the end, the doctor told he wanted me to have an x-ray of my arm before I left. I pushed back. I told him I am concerned with radiation exposure and I like to ask the question every time an x -ray is recommended. My past history includes intensive radiation therapy and years of radiation from follow-up x-rays and scans. I wasn’t sure why an x-ray was needed in this case. At this point, he became agitated. He looked at me in disbelief that I would question him. He talked for the next 5 minutes about “standard of care” which I understand and appreciate; however, I realized, as he was talking he wasn’t listening to me and was not empathetic to my situation. He didn’t care what I was saying, at all.
I began to defend myself and brought up another example of a time I pushed back on the x-ray and the physician said that actually there were other ways to determine a diagnosis without doing an x-ray. This new guy didn’t really care. I now felt like I was defending myself for asking the question and wanting to explore different options. The truth is I was a bit rattled as we had the exchange. Finally, I agreed to the x-ray. The x-ray was normal and showed nothing.
Protocols are in place to potentially rule other out other problems and the physician certainly doesn’t want to make an error in diagnosis. I get it. But the current diagnosis seemed pretty reasonable and I wonder if it made more sense to see if the treatment recommendations worked before taking things to the next step. Right or wrong, I was feeling remorse that I caved and more importantly I didn’t feel good about the whole thing.
I always tell people to advocate for themselves and not just accept recommendations because we don’t understand and assume the doctor knows better. Truth be told, it may be difficult to do so. But it shouldn’t be. If this doctor really listened to me and understood my concerns and fears he may have been able to address them differently. This type of example is exactly why I decided to volunteer my time to improving the patient experience. It all started back when my mother was ill and was treated in a similar way, as a case number and not a person. Writing helps me to gather my thoughts and share my experiences and my guess is we can all relate. As hard as it may be, we, as patients, need to demand respect and better care and I believe our voice will influence change.
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