The Arts of Doctoring and Patient-ing

“You’ll need to stop crying and start doing something. This is serious.”

THAT was my introduction to cancer. It was about 48 hours after my diagnosis and I was in the doctor’s office to schedule surgery. In the post-diagnostic haze I actually thought to have a lumpectomy with this man. The haze lifted the next morning, and when I realized that I could cry and act I cancelled my appointment and found another doctor.

From determining the right mammography/screening schedule, to weighing and making good treatment decisions, to talking about the numerous side effects of chemo, (and oh so much more!) the heart of GOOD medical care is the doctor-patient relationship. There is no substitute for the doctor who takes her or his time to get to know the person they are treating, who answers questions thoroughly (and even anticipates the ones unasked), who empowers a patient to learn and engage in their own health care, and who acts as a partner in health care.

The era of the all-knowing doctor and the passive patient is ending. I think that’s a good thing, but it shifts responsibility onto us as consumers. As patients we must step up to the dialogue as well. We can’t expect doctors to read our minds, to know our fears, or to make our decisions.

Health Key has a great article on how to tell a not-so-good doc from a great one! Hey, doc, are you listening?

Ultimately the strength of the partnership is up to us. If it’s not working, we need to make sure we’re doing our part. If we are, then it’s time to find a new partner!

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. DrAttai
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 20:58:54

    Thankfully you were able to regroup and find another doctor!! Your physician should be part adviser, part best friend, part genius, part skilled technician, part therapist, and a whole bunch of other parts thrown in. We’re not perfect, but this is what we aim for – after all, we went into medicine because we want to help people, and we can only truly help if we bring more to the relationship than our scalpels and prescription pads. The patient needs to be treated, not just the disease. Unfortunately sometimes the basic social skills are lacking, but it is so important not only to find a physician that is skilled, but one that you can TALK to. Of course it’s not the same relationship as with a best friend, but it should still feel very comfortable. And as a patient, you should feel very comfortable speaking up and even walking out of that doctor’s officeif you are not having ALL of your needs met. It is a partnership after all, not a dictatorship.


    • Lori
      Jul 06, 2011 @ 21:16:52

      LOVE THIS: “It is a partnership after all, not a dictatorship.”

      I couldn’t agree more! But I have to say, the patient must bring something to the partnership as well! Too often, I fear, patients see themselves as recipients of care. While there are many lessons to learn, one that stands out for me is that my care is my responsibility, and if I want the best possible care, I have to be an active participant.


  2. Pink Ribbon Blues
    Jul 07, 2011 @ 09:05:31

    You make excellent points about the importance of context, understanding, relationship, and the crucial aspect of being informed as a patient and advocating for oneself. I love Dr. Attai’s take on this too.


  3. Stephanie
    Jul 07, 2011 @ 12:13:10

    your angle is right on here…and confirms why I intend to have you right by my side should I find myself in this place.


  4. Elyn Jacobs
    Jul 07, 2011 @ 13:08:23

    Great post and comments. Sadly, sometimes doctors do act as dictators. Yesterday I spoke with a woman with stage 1 , wanted to treat her cancer naturally, opted out of surgery. Many doctors turned her down, even those who aggressively believe in the power of nutrition and dietary supps…seems none could “hear” her. While most opt for conventional treatments and many add complementary therapies, it is sad that for those who choose to skip the conventional, they have a hard time being heard. While I am concerned about her choice, I respect her wishes and support her. The important thing is to be an active and empowered participant, and yes, she is. I like to think that all doctors want to heal, but I too have suffered tremendously from know-it-all doctors who knew nothing. Great conversation, so glad things are-a-changing….


  5. TalkAboutHealth
    Jul 07, 2011 @ 14:07:44

    Great post and comments. I agree, as we advance with treatment options and there are more choices to make, patients must educate themselves in order to make the best decisions based on their needs and values.

    Our society is progressing so quickly with technology, the relationship and communication between physicians and patients must evolve as well.


  6. Sandy Marx
    Jul 12, 2011 @ 08:00:17

    Thank you for your shared reflection and message of empowerment. Chaplains, too, are agents of empowerment, as they are first and foremost “listeners”. They have the capabilities of informing medical staff of patient’s needs directly, by leaving notes in a patient’s chart, and by their attendance at patient conferences as part of the patient’s” team”. They speak for the patient, who, all too often feels that she or he has become only a part of a system.


  7. elynjacobs
    Sep 08, 2011 @ 12:51:56

    Yesterday I went to a pulmonologist. My doctor suggested this due to my chronic cough and history of cancer. Well, along the lines of this conversation, this was one amazing doctor. He will certainly be part of my team. He spent about an hour asking questions in amazing detail about every serious illness, test, procedure, complaint and wanted to know of anything and everything that had happened in my life that could posssibly cause a lung disease (or any problem for that matter). I could really appreciate that he did not concentrate only on his specialty, but understands the whole-body issue…head bone connected to the neck bone…etc. Then after examining me, he asked how I felt about another chest x-ray. I reminded him that I had one three weeks ago. He said yes, but….(usually my words…yes doctor, but..) anyway, his point was that he is concerned as while that x-ray was clear, the puzzle had not been solved, no reason found for the cough, just many symptoms, so he wanted to redo the scan. I said no, so he asked if I would come back in three weeks, see if things cleared up and if not, he would ask me again. NEVER did he push this on my and he completely respected my desire to avoid radiation. From the minute I walked into his office, it was clear we were a team. Gotta love it!


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