At last count, I have over a dozen doctors that I have open and active treatment with. This does not include the entire medical team I had up in Orlando before we moved to Miami. Going from seeing one doctor once per year (before cancer) and never having much of anything to say or write down on the registration paperwork to seeing multiple doctors each week and having to bring lists because the paperwork never has enough room to write everything has been a HUGE adjustment.
There are a lot of things I’d like to correct about the health care system, but this post is for the people I see every day in doctor’s offices and the things I’d think were common sense …
- Look the Patient in the Eye. I realize this seems silly, but there’s nearly nothing more demeaning than demanding deeply personal information from someone while staring somewhere else. This applies to everyone, from the clerk checking the patient in all the way to the doctor in the exam room. Having billed for my time for decades, I really do understand the need to document a visit/time, but to do that instead of looking the patient in the eye is the worst thing that could be done.
- Pronounce the patient’s name correctly or ask how. My name is not Johnson, it’s Johnston. I can hear the difference. If you don’t pronounce the patient’s name correctly, then apologize. If the patient has a differently spelled name or you aren’t sure how to pronounce it, ask. I have no problem answering this question, but if I correct someone and they insist they said it right the first time, that person has lost all credibility with me.
- Introduce Yourself. There is truly nothing more confusing than being in a new medical office or hospital room and people one after the other come in and touch you, talk to you, ask you questions and you have no idea who they are. Name tags help, but they aren’t always turned the right way to be read and I’m blind as a bat without my glasses. As a patient, I need to know who you are and why you are touching me or asking questions, especially at night when I’m hospitalized.
- Read the file before you enter the room or ask a question. I realize it is easier sometimes to ask a patient/client a question rather than dig for the information in the file. As a patient, nothing loses my trust faster than to realize that the person sitting in front of me does not remember anything about me and/or doesn’t know anything about my file. This means I then attempt to provide all of the information I think is important. I’m not a medical professional so that probably means I will give lots of extra information that isn’t needed. It would be so much faster and more efficient to at least glance at the file.
- Attempt to Empathize, but BE CAREFUL what you say. Words matter. Words matter deeply. Saying “I know how you feel,” is NOT a good idea unless you have actually been in that person’s shoes. It is impossible to understand how a terminal patient feels unless you are also a terminal patient and to be told that someone knows how I feel when that person is actually making me crazy is not helpful in the slightest.
- LISTEN. I get that not all patients know what to say. I get that we patients don’t speak in medical terms all the time. I get that we patients tell medical professionals things that may seem irrelevant. With all that being said, a patient needs to know that his/her medical professionals are listening, that our concerns mean something. I have learned very quickly that different doctors/staff are listening for different things, that different doctors stay within their own specialty and I do my best to tailor what I’m saying; however, there is nothing more important in the doctor-patient relationship than the RELATIONSHIP. To have one, both parties to the relationship have to listen to the other and that relationship includes all of the members of the office, not just the doctor.
- There is more going on than you can understand. The intangibles of being a patient with a terminal disease are complicated and many. A patient may be experiencing PTSD while just sitting in the waiting room. Waiting for the results of a scan can be impossible and heavy. Realize that a patient not reacting well or not being “cooperative” is likely about so many more things than what another person can see. Be kind and be flexible.
- Touch. There are more and more studies that demonstrate the power of touching another human being and how that affects both people involved internally and externally. Suffice it to say, a gentle touch during an exam or discussion or encounter is powerful and should be utilized frequently when appropriate.
- Talk to and about the patient in front of you ONLY. I cannot emphasize this enough. I’ve stopped keeping track of how often I hear commentary and information about other patients, sometimes very personal information. Most often, it is the support staff complaining about a patient. I’m sure I’ve been the subject of complaints a time or two. Griping about work issues may be healthy in the appropriate context. Where other patients can hear is not that.
I’m sure medical professionals have their own dos/don’ts for patients, but these are mine as a patient with a terminal illness that will require me to see and continue to see many doctors for the rest of my life. Fair warning, I fill out every single survey I receive and I always include names.