Listening to patients for the past two weeks, we learned quite a bit about what patients appreciated about their doctors and what had left them hurt and confused.
M., an elderly lady with a very close relationship with her primary care physician, said she had been to many bad doctors in her life. She knew right away that her current doctor was different, that she “could just tell.” M. didn’t feel like she was wasting the doctor’s time. What was so special about her? “She listened. She really listened.” When asked to elaborate, M. had a difficult time describing the intangibles that struck her. The two just clicked. “It’s a gut feeling.”
From a doctor, three A’s: “ability, affability, availability.”
I interviewed a cardiac patient and his family in the hospital who were very grateful for the team of doctors that cared for him. The family mentioned a doctor at a different institution, who, after a long day, took them aside for a private conversation. He asked how they were doing and if they were taking care of themselves. “Are you sleeping? Are you eating?” he had asked. “You need to take care of yourselves so you can take care of [the patient].” He spoke to the family for 45 minutes, until nearly 10 pm. “During that time, his wife called him several times,” recalled a family member. “He just said he’d be home soon.”
That same family recounted a time when their father/husband was undergoing a fairly long surgery. After waiting for any sort of news, the family finally heard from a few staff members that the surgery turned out fine (no more detail than that). A bit later, they noticed the surgeon step out and they approached him and asked him for additional information. “Did you talk to my staff?” he asked. They said they had. “Then you know it was fine,” he answered brusquely and turned and walked off. “It was as though he considered any of his time talking to us a waste.”
A classmate of mine mentioned that when she had interviewed a patient, the patient had mentioned that she had surgery which had left a scar on her chest. Her doctor had told her that it shouldn’t be a problem, since she was never going to wear a bikini anyway.
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