Sunday, July 13, 2008

What Makes a Good Patient Great?

Recently I've been thinking about doctor/patient relationships. A friend of mine is going back into counseling and was very disappointed to find out her previous counselor has retired. Another is facing uncertainty about her future with one of her doctors. My mother has left several doctors in a verbally abusive huff. Hubby could care less one way or the other about any of his doctors. I trust my Shrink more than I trust almost any other person on this planet.

On the flip side, I've been reading about doctors facing the good, the bad, and the ugly with favorite patients or sucking it up to deal with less than ideal ones. One is being encouraged to visit a favorite patient in hospice even though it blurs the boundaries in a way that hurts his heart. One story told of a doctor finding out that a beloved patient had committed suicide. A former doctor of mine wrote a book of anecdotes about his time practicing and he had many stories of well-loved patients, as well as some humorously spun tales of not so well-liked encounters.

On the average, I would guess that most people have one or two doctors if they are healthy and maybe as many as six or seven if they are really not. (I have five regular doctors.) So a doctor can hold an important role in a person's life. But doctors have hundreds of patients over the course of their careers. I don't know how many patients they would likely have at any given point but I can sure hell guarantee it's more than six or seven. So what is it that makes a patient stand out to a doctor? What makes a good patient a great patient in the eyes of a doctor?

I've personally known people who are frustrating patients for everyone involved with them, the kind of patient that the doctors must feel relieved when they go somewhere else. I do my best to be NOTHING like that. Here is what I do to try to make my doctors' jobs easier...

1. Patience: I don't have a problem waiting for a doctor. As far as I'm concerned, the majority of the time, they are late because they are working with other patients. I once waited over 8 hours to have my c-section because my OB was still in surgery. Turns out he was saving a life. Another woman had some rare and major complications and he and another doc were working on saving her life. (They were the talk of the maternity ward, let me tell you!) I don't have a problem waiting on my docs while they help other patients because I know they would (and have) done the same for me.

2. Trust: I trust my doctors to have my best interests at heart. And I make sure they can trust me to be honest with them. Communication is critical. If they don't know what is going on, they can't help. I keep my eyes open for problems, but overall, I let them do their jobs and I do mine.

3. Attitude: I place respect first and foremost when I deal with doctors. I don't overstep boundaries and I try not to be too demanding. To all of them but The Shrink, I put forth a positive attitude and never give up, offer jokes and smiles. I never give up hope and I always thank them for their help and display confidence that their suggestions, medications, treatments, whatever, are going to work optimally. I always assume they will work optimally too and don't give up on them not working unless the doctor decides to change course.

4. Commitment: I try to pay my bill as quickly as I can and if I can't, I let them know what is going on and how soon I can pay it. But above all, I do my absolute best to respect their time. I try very hard to be at every appointment on time. If I can't be there, I give as much notice as I possibly can. If I miss an appointment or have to cancel with less than 24 hours, I always ask how much the cancel fee is - and am willing to pay it - even when I know they won't charge me for it. I can't begin to express how annoyed I get at people I know who treat appointments as optional and neither show nor call and then don't seem to care.

So that's how I behave with and towards my doctors, trying to be a good patient so that they can be free to be a good doctor. And I'm guessing most of the patients that stick out in a good way to doctors do these things too, right? But that doesn't tell me what it is that they do above and beyond what good patients do in order to become a great patient in the eyes of the doctors. And I don't have any idea how to find out either. It's not like I could just ask one of them. Most doctors try not admit to having favorite patients in much the same way that teachers won't admit to having favorite students, especially to one who isn't a favorite. So I guess I'll keep doing what I'm doing and hope that, since I can't be a great patient, at least I won't be a dreaded patient.


Aqua said...

I am sure you fit into the category of "well loved patient". I like your list. Mine would be similar:

Understanding that they are people with lives and stuff happens, try to be okay with the occasional lateness, or cancelled appts.

Being thoughtful and polite like I am with any human being. Sometimes I send thank you cards.

Talking openly, but politely if anything makes me angry or annoyed. There is nothing worse than stewing over a perceived mistake.

With my pdoc I find these moments of openness and honesty the most helpful for our relationship. I do not "challenge", instead I explain "This is what I perceived happened, this is how I felt, I could be mistaken, but could we talk about it"? (God knows my perception is skewed much of the time)

Great topic.

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