By Michele Howe
During recent years, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time waiting.
Waiting to be called into various physician’s examination rooms that is.
As I wait, I sometimes watch. People watch.
But mostly, I read.
Like everyone I know, I hate wasting time, so I bring my work along with me and get something productive accomplished as I wait for my turn.
The only thing that slows me down from working through a manuscript in record time is the people waiting around me.
All too often, I’m trying hard to concentrate but I’m hearing nothing but complaints in front of me, behind me, and on either side of me. I overhear the loud, not so subtle gripes as well as the just-above-a-whisper murmurings and I catch the oh-so-visible body language of people who feel inconvenienced and put out at having to wait their turn to see their physician.
I listen to the moans and groans. I observe the sighs and the heads shaking as their eyes narrow in distaste when they look at their watches for the umpteenth time.
And I wonder about those people.
Why didn’t they bring something (anything) to read or work on as they wait?
Why do they expect to sign in and be immediately ushered into the inner sanctum even though it’s obvious the waiting area is full to overflowing with other hurting people?
Why do they feel they deserve the white glove treatment at the expense of others?
Next, I wonder what type of greeting they’ll offer their physician when they finally (their word, not mine) enter into the examination room?
By the looks on many of their faces, I’d not want to venture into such dangerous territory.
And so it goes day in and day out in the life of our physicians. It’s an unfortunate reality that our dedicated medical professionals are fighting a losing battle with some patients before they even step into the exam room to say hello.
It’s no surprise that more and more of our brightest and most skilled men and women are opting to go into other medical specialty areas (such as research) rather than becoming a physician on the front lines of health care. Being a doctor in today’s world of entitlement can be hazardous to one’s health and I’m not talking about contracting the random virus here and there.
We hear a lot in the media today about the ever-escalating pressures physicians face in today’s turbulent times. Some of these stresses mainstream America is familiar with but other equally important factors remain in the background partially because there isn’t much doctors can do if their patients choose to not take personal responsibility for their own healthcare. The bottom line is that optimal quality of health and life cannot be achieved if patients are unwilling to meet their physicians halfway and partner together for a successful outcome.
So what does it mean to partner with your physician exactly? Partnering by its very definition implies equality, mutual respect, and working toward a common goal. Patients go to physicians for information, counsel, advice, and alleviation of pain/painful conditions. They come expecting their doctor to assemble his very best arsenal of knowledge, experience, and skills to diagnose, prescribe, fix, cure and heal them. And their physicians work overtime to meet every single one of these expectations.
Again, I wonder, isn’t it about time that patients do their part and start valuing their physicians’ commitment to them by demonstrating some simple gratitude and general courtesy? How many patients have ever put themselves in their physicians’ position? Even once?
Mostly, I suspect the majority of patients judge the success of their most recent doctor’s appointment mainly by how long they had to wait before being seen. If I’m correct, then we all need an education about the varying and diverse hats physicians wear each and every day and how these non-negotiable additional responsibilities affect you and me as patients.
Did you know that most doctors work in excess of 50 hours per week and that’s the low end of the spectrum for a physician? The truer estimate is 60-70 hours a week.
Consider this fact: before office hours even open at 8:00 or 9:00am, your physician has very likely made his rounds at whatever hospital(s) he currently has patients admitted to and generally spends about an hour attending to their special needs before seeing patients in his own office.
Next, comes the full day of examining/advising/consoling/counseling one patient after another with a brief break for lunch (if there’s time) right through the late afternoon. All the while juggling phone calls/pages/emails/texts and fielding questions from his staff, colleagues, insurance and pharmaceutical representatives. And if you think once the doors close for the day that your doctor gets to go home and relax, you’d be wrong again. Your ever diligent, hardworking doctor still has to spend hours completing patient charts and other paperwork required by the government. Oh and let’s not forget the endless hospital administrator meetings (before and after) his typically frenetic and exhausting workday. While we’re defining workday, let’s be clear that for most folks “workday” is defined as 9:00am – 5:00pm, Monday through Friday, but not so for doctors who are on rotation at the hospital, and therefore, on call, during weekends too.
When we see the other side of medicine from the perspective of our physicians more clearly, every little complaint or grudge we were nursing about that extra fifteen minute wait seems foolish, embarrassingly so. Factor in the excessive hours, demanding physical/mental/emotional workload, stresses from hospitals to staff to patients (not taking into account personal responsibilities of family/friends/home/health concerns) and then having to face a malcontent patient…or a group of them. It’s too much to ask of anyone.
Sadly, patients do more than ask, they expect, they demand, and in turn, become yet another factor that drives some good physicians out of practicing medicine…for good. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Instead of expecting the white glove treatment, why not give it instead? Certainly, our physicians have earned it.
Each of us as patients are in a position to contribute to our physicians’ well-being and happiness. How? By adhering to what I’d like to call a “patient’s code of conduct,” which by another definition means, a list of good behavioral guidelines to follow when working with your doctors.
Here’s a few suggestions for starters, but feel free to add some of your own. In any case, express your appreciation of your physician to him whenever you can, as often as you can, in every way that you can. Maybe, just maybe, your kindness will remind him why he wanted to go into medicine in the first place.
Six Effective Ways to Say, “I appreciate being your patient!”
· Thank them each and every time you enter their office.
· Listen to their counsel when they give it.
· Follow their instructions after agreeing on the best course of treatment.
· Demonstrate graciousness when having to wait longer than we’d like or expected
· Always, always see the person behind the professional demeanor.
· Give them room to have a bad day and not judge them for it (or speak poorly of them afterward.)
Michele Howe is a LaSalle resident and author of “One Size Fits All.” For more information, visit http://michelehowe.wordpress.