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When The Patient is the Doctor

Posted Jan 22 2009 6:45pm

ColumbiaUniversity psychiatrist Dr. Robert Klitzman has written a book entitled “When Doctors Become Patients.'’ It’s based on his own experience as a patient and interviews with more than 70 physicians.

He discovered to no surprise that when doctors get sick, they discover cracks in the health system that they didn’t know existed. Things they never paid attention to like long waiting times or a broken television really are a big deal.

From a patient perspective one of things he learned was that patients try to please their doctors. You know. The doctor asks “is everything OK” and instead of using it as an opportunity to ask questions and probe, you answer “yes it is.” He also recognized how important spiritual issues and prayer are for patients.

Doctors discovered an interesting thing. It’s not just about the clinical outcome but the total experience. They noticed the physical surroundings, took note of the medication mishaps. They took note of language. Doctors are always quick to tell you the odds for complications in a surgery instead of spinning the positive and tell you the overwhelming odds against complications. It triggers an entirely different emotional response from patients.

Lessons – well for consumers, as always, speak up and advocate for your health care and that of your loved one in a long term facility. For my long-term care colleagues, note that the experience will start mattering more and more as aging health professionals actually have to encounter the system themselves. This is all the more reason to audit and fix the experience. It will lead to the best marketing possible – word of mouth.

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