What if we were to compare a typical visit to the doctor with a visit to your favorite local business: your hairstylist, banker, or real estate agent? If you regularly see these local professionals who have become a fixture in your schedule, then you have trust in their professional wisdom. I bet they spend some “quality” time with you: making eye contact, perhaps a bit of small-talk, and even sharing some family updates. Usually, you would not feel rushed, and you may even enjoy the encounter.
In the world of healthcare, which requires intimate professionalism, you would, at least, expect that the same basic premise of the business/client relationship would apply. For example, you would not expect your accountant to see you as his 65th client of the day and still be able to address all of your needs in 15 minutes. Likewise, you would also not understand if your mechanic scheduled you to drop your car off at 2:00pm, but still required you to wait 2 hours before spending only 7 minutes with the car, meaning it most likely would not be adequately repaired. As well, you might move on to a new hairstylist if you had to wait more than 5 weeks just to have a basic haircut. And, when you did finally make it to the chair, I would expect that you would walk out if the stylist insisted typing on a computer, with full attention to it, instead of you. The sad reality of our insane healthcare system, is that we have come to expect, and accept all of these behaviors in our appointment experiences with our healthcare provider.
Medicine run “Wall Street-style” by health insurance companies and executive CEO’s without medical training has gradually taken over the reins of clinic management in all specialties. The quality of a patient encounter is currently based on factors that have little to do with the relationship between a doctor and a patient. Instead, measurable “metrics” are stressed which press the efficiency of the provider to get from room to room. Incentives are provided with increased pay to those providers who are able to force-fit more patients into their schedule. The administrative work generated from each visit from inefficient computer-based electronic health records keep the provider’s head down and attention distracted, so a personal conversation with real connection is virtually non-existent. The doctors which agree to work in this environment are not able to bring their compassionate selves to the visit with their patient due to the pressures of being a human calculator at warp speed to fulfill the demands from productivity management markers.
How do you find a good doctor in the fast-food style industry that healthcare has become? There are indeed some standing bastions of authentic, empathic doctors that doggedly retain the art of medicine in their practice. They are located no further than your local towns, but you do have to look for them. Just as health food stores are not as populated as fast food restaurants, so it is that it might be a bit of a worthwhile hike to find a doctor who strives to make an empathic bond with each patient. In order to practice the type of medicine that is not dictated by insurance companies, some may have creative fee structures. But, those that truly care about the health of all most likely will have charges that agrees to your budget, and often have ways you can be reimbursed by your insurance company if they are not under your coverage umbrella.
Why should we seek a doctor that “listens” to us? The truthful answer is that a problem is uncovered and often solved in a setting of a trusting relationship. The bond of empathy forms a connection that “plugs” the physician and the patient into a higher level of communal problem-solving together. Science has proven that compassion helps to restore a sense of peace and a resting state as well. This “dose of ease” is often what we all seek in solving problems or curing any disease state, from ulcers to high blood pressure and much more. When there is a release of strain, body systems are able to shut off the frantic “fight or flight” modes that exhaust our body’s systems. In the sacred relationship between a patient and physician, the gears of natural healing and hope can begin to engage. Fear can be put to rest for peace of mind, and the collaborative, open space for discussion can mean that understanding and clarification can take place. This is not too much to ask for in your next visit with your healthcare provider.
In the book, “Discovering Your Own Doctor Within,” real patient stories told from the viewpoint of a caring physician delve deep into what is possible when there is a commitment to listening with an open heart. No metrics, no computers, no rush… The ability to hone attention, laser-like, into deeper sources of symptoms, arise naturally and easily. Often, a person that is truly heard, begins to share clues that surprise even them. This saves money on unneeded procedures. More importantly, it also gives us hope that the human side of medicine is still maybe only endangered, but not extinct.