Friday, October 16, 2009

Why doctors don't talk to patients

One of the excuses many doctors give for not talking to their patients is their concern that the patient will not understand all the technical minutiae. Their approach is - It took me 10 years to master medicine. How can a poor patient possibly understand all the subtleties and complexities in 10 minutes ! I am a good doctor and will decide what's best for the patient, based on my vast experience and great expertise. What's the point in confusing the patient and burdening her with knowledge will may go above her head ? Isn't it better than I take control of her medical course - after all, that's what she is paying me for ! This way, she can focus her energies on getting better, while I work on her medical treatment.

While this paternalistic approach is still surprisingly common in India even today, the fact remains that this is a broken model. Patients want to be treated with respect - and while they don't want to become doctors themselves, they want to make decisions about their own bodies !

Using the pretext that patients will not understand it just a copout in my opinion. Nothing is so complex that it cannot be explained - and if the doctor cannot do so, it just means that he is a poor communicator and needs to improve his skills. This is true, even when the patient is illiterate as well. A good doctor will spend time and energy developing models, tools and stories which he can use to teach his patient.

And if you think you are too busy to do so, you should strongly consider employing a doctor or nurse to educate your patients for you. If you don't, you'll find a lot of them will walk out of your clinic to the doctor next door !

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous11:17 PM

    Why can't men be patients? That's the implication of your post.

    I know you don't mean to be sexist, but using "they" in its singular form would solve this issue.


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