It’s often been said that medicine is an art and a science. The science of course is learned in books, lectures and studying chemistry, anatomy, physiology and pharmacology. The art is in applying the complex science to the human experience in order to comfort and cure.
No matter how long I work in healthcare, I continue to be amazed by the all too frequent deficiencies in communication skills and regard (respect) for the individual. This past week when my mother had to see a specialist she had never met before, it was evident that he saw her age first, her diagnosis second, and the person third.
By seeing her age first, he assumed she was feeble-minded or at least not very capable of understanding big words. The truth is, as a former English teacher she is still well-read, fairly high tech, articulate, and has a more active social life than I do with 2-3 bridge games per week.
By seeing her diagnoses second, he decided she wasn’t worth much effort because after all, at 86 she wouldn’t have much time left anyway.
The sad thing is that this is not isolated to one doctor. It’s prevalent throughout healthcare. Facts like chronological age and diagnosis are vital elements in guiding a treatment plan, but create biases and barriers to seeing the human being and all their unique qualities and needs.
We all judge quickly. But before telling a patient your plans, ask yourself: Who is this person? What is most important to her? How can we provide choices and options that fit with her life and respect her priorities? These are the foundation of a respectful, inclusive dialog and will go far in building patient trust and compliance.