Caring for the whole patient in a technological world
Connection. When people think of that word in terms of doctors today, they may immediately think of technology and social media, and all the different ways it has changed the way we schedule appointments, receive test results, and visit our doctors. Computers in the exam room, especially, have made it super convenient for physicians to both access and record information quickly – helping them to be efficient so they can spend more time with patients.
It’s been said that 90 percent of making a diagnosis comes from asking about the patient’s medical history. The answers to these questions lead to follow-up questions, and that’s how you understand what’s going on with a patient and eventually arrive at a diagnosis.
I spend a lot of time on this part when I’m with a patient, beyond the purely medical aspects of the visit. This initial connection between the patient and me, fostered by conversation, questions and answers, not only provides important information, but helps to establish a rapport. “Oh, you grew up there? I grew up there, too… What kind of work do you do?”
I always learn so much more sitting face-to-face with my patients, instead of typing at the computer. I’m not just treating a disease, I’m treating the whole person. It bucks the trend of what people sometimes refer to as “transactional medicine,” when the patient comes in, explains the symptom, and leaves with a treatment or prescription – all without the doctor really getting to know them.
The physician-patient relationship is in and of itself therapeutic. If the patient is there with a complaint, no matter what it is, there’s something wrong – and I never tell them there is nothing wrong, even when the diagnosis is not immediately clear. Some patients just need reassurance, and the way you explain it can make all the difference in the world. That all translates to how they feel when leave, and how compliant they will be with what is prescribed or recommended.
Medicine is at its foundation, humanistic. There’s a quote by Dr. Francis Peabody, in his speech to Harvard medical students in 1926, which has always been my guiding principal: “One of the essential qualities of the clinician is interest in humanity, for the secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient.”
It’s sometimes trial and error to find a good doctor. You will know a lot more after the first visit. You want to feel comfortable with your doctor and relate to them. Did they spend time with you? Did they answer all your questions? Did they seem interested in you? Also ask them what hospital they are affiliated with and make sure they are in good standing there.
As physicians, we have to stay true the mission to care for the patient. So regardless of what’s happening technologically, we should strive to use the technology where it’s beneficial – but avoid letting it become a detriment to patient care. If you actually care about that person, it will lead you to taking good care of them.