After many years of medical treatments, I’ve collected countless stories about how doctors treat their patients. They cover the gamut: kind, sympathetic and gentle to blunt, brutal and harsh. Some doctors seem perfectly tuned in with their patients while others are just not there. Following is a list of six best practices, from a patient’s point of view.
1. Compassion. The best doctors want to know what is going on in their patients' lives, what support they have and how they may cope with difficult news. They try to evaluate the patient’s capacity to process the situation he or she is facing, will help find support or resources, and follow up afterward.
2. Perspective. We depend on doctors to help us create the context for our situation, particularly if dealing with serious illness. One brilliant oncologist said to me, “I look at not just where the cancer is, but more importantly, where the cancer isn’t.” In an empowering and enlightening moment, I realized that there is more to me than a tumor. I am composed of physical, mental and spiritual resources singularly devoted to my survival.
3. Inclusion. My gynecologic oncologist likes his patients to feel involved in the treatment plan and at every visit will dictate his notes while I’m still in the office. At the end of his dictation, he asks if I want to add or amend anything. It is a moment for us to reach agreement, to be clear about what’s next, a nod to me of his respect for me, not only as his patient, but also his partner in my care.
4. Collaboration. Great doctors know that it’s impossible to know everything and they invite other specialist into difficult cases. Likewise, when patients want a second opinion, they are agreeable and may even assist in the referral.
5. Open. Medicine is changing more rapidly than ever before in history, partly due to new technology and new levels of collaboration between biomedical researchers. Consequently, there are new studies and novel approaches to care that may improve the outcome for patients. Great doctors are open to investigating new approaches to treatment.
6. Respect. Patients seeking medical care are often in pain, can be confused and are likely stressed and feeling powerless. The best practices help patients feel that they will be treated respectfully, compassionately and intelligently. These practices help patients understand their situation at the appropriate level. They support the patient by viewing her as a person with a full life outside of the illness. They give her hope and care to the greatest extent possible.
There are many great healers in this country. If you’re not satisfied that you are being served by one, perhaps it’s time to evaluate and reconsider who you entrust with your life and your loved ones.