Doctors go into medicine because they want to help people. They put in extraordinarily long hours during their training that no other profession is expected to endure.
Caring and compassionate physicians are challenged these days by a medical system that is badly broken. The amount of time a doctor can spend with a patient is limited and insurance companies may restrict treatments or challenge doctors’ judgment.
It’s no wonder that many doctors dread having to answer questions from patients who have consulted Dr. Google or who bring their own ideas about a diagnosis or treatment to the visit.
Many physicians don’t like to hear about drug side effects, either. They don’t like being reminded that something they prescribed might have caused harm.
One reader shared the following doctor-patient interaction: “My husband's a type 2 diabetic. Before going on insulin, he tried some new oral medicines, but he reacted badly to them. The endocrinologist he was seeing just paid attention to his blood sugar number, at the high end of ‘acceptable,’ and didn't care that the drugs blew up his weight rapidly to where it peaked at 320 pounds.
“He'd been a bit too heavy before the drugs, but when he started the medicines, his weight began to climb, and his health began to fail. She said he was ‘just an overeater’ and if he didn't lose weight she'd drop him as a patient.
“He asked her if he could try to control his blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure through diet and exercise alone. She told him she didn't think he had enough self-control. Finally, he snapped.
“At his final appointment with her, she and he had a shouting match during which she called him names in a voice they heard at the reception station. ‘Fat,’ ‘whiny,’ ‘argumentative’ and ‘non-compliant.’ She didn't know him at all as a person, didn't remember him from visit to visit and barely read his file. He'd gotten to where he was precisely because he was taking the drugs she prescribed and making every effort to be compliant. He's a very intelligent and diligent man, hard-working with a lot of self-control. He is NOT a whiner.
“She ‘fired’ him as a patient and he ‘fired’ her as a doctor. Now he has a new doctor, is on a low dose of insulin, has lost all the weight he'd packed on and is exercising regularly. He has energy and good health and enjoys life again. He may be able to control his condition with diet and exercise alone in the future, with his doctor’s help.
“If we were to run into his former endocrinologist she'd no doubt still see him as a ‘problem patient’ because he dared to stand up to her to save himself.”
This is not the first time we have heard about a doctor-patient relationship that went off the tracks. Even though a physician may find a patient annoying, there is no excuse for shouting or name-calling.
Patients know that doctors have valuable education and experience to contribute. Doctors also need to acknowledge the role that patients must play in their own care. If a medication causes uncomfortable side effects, a physician should not dismiss them as unimportant.
Like all human relationships, doctors and patients do best when there is mutual respect and shared responsibility.