Toward the end of 2012, I made the rounds of many of my doctors. There were tests to be done, results to review, and new tests and plans of action to put in place.
We, my medical team and I, also discussed the changes unfolding in the medical field, affecting professionals and patients. Amid the talk of new scientific discoveries, equipment, tests and treatments, a particular comment by one of my doctors still echoes in my mind.
“We’re just not being nice to one another,” he told me. “It’s really sad.”
The context of the comment was that, due to my ongoing troubles with asthma, he wanted me to have his home telephone number in case I had an emergency. He said that his colleagues had told him he was crazy to give his number to any patient, but he knew I wouldn’t abuse the privilege. He told me he wanted me to have better peace of mind that, should I need help urgently, I had a reliable option in a city where 911 can be iffy.
He wanted, he told me, to be nice.
Unfortunately, today there are many health care related changes that increasingly erode that basic ability to be kindly, nicely, human.
With more doctors spending time entering data during patient visits, basic relational skills — such as making eye contact — suffer. Patients who may see a different physician each office visit lose the benefit of a personal, dedicated physician and the continuity and trust-building that it offers.
A doctor giving his personal phone number pales with the labyrinth that some patients enter when they try to reach their physicians during office hours. Some go from hold to hold on the telephone, to nurse to voicemail to hold again and (sometimes) getting cut off.
As the number of patients increase, other personal touches are disappearing. Ten-minute appointments go by mighty fast. Already, one of my doctors does so many diagnostic tests that she has stopped calling to give results unless there is a problem. Only a handful of my doctors still call me beforehand to remind me of an appointment, and one does so with a recorded message that has been incorrect twice.
In haste, mistakes occur, such as the time I went in for a blood draw and, one by one, three tests were omitted, requiring three more draws in the span of a week.
Despite these and other challenges to the “care” in health care, I continue to try to find ways around and through them to maintain a good, person-to-person relationship with those on my medical team. Many of these are not major actions but smaller attempts at smoothing the way.
I try to be as polite as possible, look for ways to encourage human communication, find humor in difficult situations and point out places for improvement. I truly heap praise upon those men and women in the medical trenches who are also striving to preserve the human element in the practice of medicine.
At the end of each year, which brings Thanksgiving and Christmas, we are encouraged to “love one another,” an important and great goal. But we need this feeling to last throughout the year, with hopes for the gentler and, perhaps, more subtle version of that beautiful, Christ-given gift: being nicer to one another.
In the health care realm, where doctors and other medical professionals wish to “do no harm,” and we patients wish to feel better, encouraging ourselves and each other in small, personal ways to strive for kindness and care will, I hope, build a stronger bridge from where we are to where we wish to be.