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Monday, March 31, 2014

an open letter to doctors

In the last two years, I've seen many of you. I'm not sure of the exact number at this point, and I would hate to insult you so early on by mistakenly including chiropractors or naturopaths in my tally (calm down, it's a joke) but let's just say it's more than an ideal number. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against you. I respect your profession more than you know. I trust you with my life and I genuinely believe you when you say that your number one goal is to help people. But I think that in order to truly help people, you MUST be able to appreciate the user experience...to understand the patient perspective. Here we go.

1. When you yourself aren't able to provide us a solution, try to put your ego aside and help us find someone or something that can. If you really feel like there's nothing more you can do to help guide us in the right direction, please don't become an additional barrier or source of stress. For example, if we call your office to request our medical records, please don't refuse to send them, forcing us to go through a completely avoidable complaint process with the U.S. Office for Civil Rights.

2. Modernize your practice and communication. It's 2014. Fax machines are obsolete and email is a perfectly acceptable (and convenient) means of relaying information. Also, you don't need to be an award winning typist, but when you are charging us hundreds of dollars per hour, don't sit in front of us using using the hunt and peck one finger method to record your notes. Worse yet, please don't decide that a voice dictation method is more convenient for you and interrupt us every twelve seconds through the duration of our conversation to repeat what we have told you into your microphone. That actually may be the opposite of efficient.

3. Keep enough chairs in your waiting room for all of us to sit. If cigarette smokers tend to linger on the sidewalk outside your waiting room, consider finding a solution to this problem.

4. Don't let us perceive your annoyance if we express concern about the drugs you've recommended. You understand the reality and statistics of adverse side effects because you're the expert. We are not.

5. If you don't provide us with new patient paperwork before our appointment, don't fill out the paperwork for us during the first 20 minutes of our one hour appointment with you. If you insist on doing this, definitely don't charge us $450 per hour.

6. Manage your schedule. We're reasonable people, and most of us will understand that emergences happen and certain situations warrant extra time and attention (which we're actually grateful for!), which means the occasional two hours spent in a waiting room are inevitable. But if you are consistently running 45-90 minutes behind, perhaps it's time to reevaluate your scheduling capacity.

7. Open your mind and try not to judge. If you're an alternative medical practitioner, don't scoff at the conventional path we've pursued. If you're a conventional medical practitioner, don't roll your eyes at our experiences with alternative treatments. Just because you haven't read the research doesn't mean the data doesn't existence. The data not existing doesn't negate an opportunity for you to learn something that could help more of us down the road.

8. Be empathetic. And no, that doesn't require a psychology degree or mean that you need to hold our hand and sing kum ba yah. It means that you need to be able to see the world, even if just momentarily, through eyes other than your own. Maybe it's our boyfriend's perspective you need to adopt. Can you imagine what it would be like bringing your significant other to doctor after doctor after doctor without relief? What their state of mind must be like? Their level of frustration and exhaustion? At the risk of sounding golden-rule-ish, how would you want to be treated if you were sitting on the other side of the table?

9. Don't underestimate the power of body language. Make eye contact. Shake our hands when we come into your office. Use a purposeful tone of voice. Don't reach into your pocket to check your phone while we speak to you. If we start crying, try handing us a tissue box instead of immediately turning around or looking away because it makes you feel uncomfortable. There is no level of intellect, degree, or salary that excuses you from exercising these basic social skills.

10. For the love of *insert respective greater power*, do not interrupt us repeatedly (or anyone, for that matter) when we're speaking to you. Don't just hear our story, listen. Some parts may seem irrelevant and we apologize because we know you have a schedule to keep, so be able to tactfully keep our conversation focused and on track. If this isn't a skill you possess, practice it.

11. If we cry during our visit with you because we're in physical pain and frustrated that we're not making progress, don't diagnose us with a mood disorder and suggest a menu of anti-depressants to help us feel better. This will make us feel misunderstood and discouraged even more.

12. At the end of every visit, confirm that we're on board with the treatment plan you've put worth. Ask us if we have questions or concerns that weren't addressed.

13. Last but not least, let us know you’re on our team. I know you can't promise us that you'll have the magic bullet cure, but make a promise that you'll support us. Don't assume that we already have a team of people behind us. Trust me when I say that all we want is to be able to leave your office feeling less hopeless than when we arrived. Saying something as simple as “I'm committed to helping you” could be all it takes.

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