Doctor vs. Mechanic

Car checkupEvery July, I get my car inspected. I don’t know the mechanic, nor do I know what exactly he does with the wires, valves, and hoses. If the car passes inspection and runs well, that’s all I care about.

In my opinion, going to the doctor’s office should be nothing like taking your car to be inspected. When I take my own body to the doctor’s office, I’m heavily vested in both practitioner and process. Anyone who treats me on an intimate level should, ideally, demonstrate respect, patience and compassion. That’s what I expect.

After turning 50 a short time ago, I found myself going to a handful of specialists for various chronic conditions. I go to a cardiologist twice a year and he is reasonably personable. Each visit starts in his consultation room. He asks a few quick questions, scribbles some notes and whisks me into an exam room. After changing into a gown and having an EKG, the doctor comes in, listens to my heart in silence, instructs me to get dressed and leaves the room. Minutes later (in between his other phones calls), I sit opposite him in the consulting room and get a short synopsis of the exam. Then he gets up and escorts me back to reception. His appointments run on time because he is watching the clock.

Is he a bad doctor?   No.
Does my care suffer?   Not yet.
Do I feel rushed?   You bet.
Do I feel listened to?   Hardly.
Would I recommend him?   Not sure.

I also see an ophthalmologist twice a year. She has an easy smile and a relaxed manner. Her waiting room gets so crowded that the wait time can be an hour, but when she enters the exam room and closes the door, she makes it clear that we are in sacred space: no phone calls, no interruptions. She asks about changes in medication, vision or stress. She sits a few feet away on a round stool, maintaining eye contact and giving me cues that she’s actively listening as I talk. She makes me feel as if I’m the only patient of the day. During a thorough eye exam, she explains what she’s observing in reassuring tones. Afterward, she checks if I need a new prescription and asks if I have additional questions or concerns. The entire appointment – from waiting to payment — often lasts 90 minutes, but my doctor exudes everything I expect: patience, respect, active listening, eye contact, an invitation to share concerns, and easy-to-understand explanations. With her, I feel a sense of partnership that I feel with few other doctors.

Going back to the car analogy: If my car seriously breaks down, I can get another. My body, however, cannot be replaced. Can I find doctors who are not only skilled and knowledgeable, but who also see me as a person worthy of respect, not a car to be fixed as quickly as possible? Now, if all my doctors could combine my opthamologist’s compassion with my cardiologist’s efficiency, I’d be one happy, healthy patient.

This post was written by Adrienne Simons from New York.  She is a professional market research manager, patient support group leader, Arnold P Gold Foundation volunteer, and creative writer.

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