The one question never asked of me through my education and years of clinical practice was, “What is a doctor’s role?” To some it means healer; to others it means unlimited potential for material wealth and possessions. I believe answering this one simple question can help patients defines the PERSON and and determine if their role as doctor fulfills their needs.
I can tell you that my answer encompassed wearing many different hats at any given time. This answer may sound nebulous, but the skills required of a doctor entail so much more than understanding pain and disease and dispensing treatment. As a doctor seeking the root cause of presenting problems, it was essential for me to obtain a patient’s personal and health history. These intake forms provided great value. Colleagues commonly skimmed through this information eager to get to the symptom questionnaire. So much valuable information could be found on a patient’s history intake form. It provided insight into a patient’s perception of health; it provided information determining the type of healing that would most effectively address the problem; it provided obstacles that could interfere with a speedy recovery; it assisted in determining whether the problem was more likely physical or mental and it told me what the odds were that I could help this person. That, in my opinion, is a lot of information. This is why I sat down with new patients and discussed these details. Sitting down and taking the time to understand their situation added value and credibility to the office visit.
I believed it was also my job to help the patient understand their role in addressing the presenting problem as well as their role in maximizing their health. Early in practice, I believe I misunderstood this role by attempting to educate everyone about what steps were needed to live the healthiest life possible. I was wrong with good intentions. I learned in time that it was my role to help my patients achieve the quality of life THEY chose and worked within these parameters to maximize these results. This was very difficult, because I knew people could have better outcomes. I always left the door open if they decided they were ready to pursue better outcomes.
Skillful communication was also a role I needed to develop. Confidence and trust are two important words that need to be earned as a doctor. Many doctors believe that this is a given because of all their hard work in becoming licensed physicians. They’re wrong! A patient that doesn’t believe in their doctor will often not comply with their treatment recommendations. Sometimes compliance (or partial compliance) by the patient occurs because they recognize how important they are in their doctor’s eyes and want results to make their doctors feel better. Imagine, a patient caring more about their doctor than themselves. This shows an interesting dynamic in the patient-doctor relationship. When a patient knows that their doctor truly cares, outcomes are significantly improved. For this relationship to develop, a doctor has to be willing to LISTEN to their patient. The art of listening becomes another vital skill a good doctor develops.
Another important role for the doctor is the recognition of limitations. When a doctor sees a lack of progress in their patient, he or she must decide if it is time for another set of eyes to evaluate this patient. This means a doctor must be willing to place their ego of the side and accept possible failure for the benefit of the patient. A good doctor with good communication skills will explain the need for referral and will gain additional credibility and respect from the patient knowing this decision was made in their best interest. This creates a stronger bond and increased confidence in the healthcare provider.
As you can see, examinations and treatments only play a part in the doctor’s role. Unfortunately, this is the only part that health insurance companies recognize. It is difficult to be a good doctor because the system places many limitations on the doctor’s ability to do their job well. Job performance can be based on patient volume, patient prescriptions, average cost per office visit, etc… The healthcare industry has become such big business, the patient has been reduced to a diagnosis code and treatment code. To turn this scenario back into the relationship that once existed, I encourage all readers to ask the one simple question to their doctor; “What is a doctor’s role?” The answer will help you decide if the doctor standing (or sitting) in front of you is ultimately going to be your best ally.