Magazine article Humane Health Care International

Face to Face

Magazine article Humane Health Care International

Face to Face

Article excerpt

This revered journalist, patient advocate, and consultant to Faculties of Medicine, reminds us that the success of the science calls for great skill in the art of medicine. He urges us to listen if we are to treat the patient with respect and sensitivity.

1 Humane Medicine Volume 7, Number 1, 1991, pp. 12-13.

Within a few weeks of the public announcement of my appointment to the medical faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles, I began to receive calls from patients who had the impression that I was to be a medical ombudsman. Since that time--nearly 12 years ago--most of the problems patients expressed to me concern not treatment or procedures, but patient-physician relations. Most of these complaints have in common the patients' feelings that they have not been treated with adequate respect or sensitivity. I am struck by the frequency with which these complaints are based on poor communication rather than on poor medical care. Nothing I have learned in my work with patients is more striking than their need to be heard. Unfortunately, doctors are not paid to listen; third-party payers will compensate physicians only for procedures and tests. To the patients, illness is a terrifying experience. Something is happening that is beyond their control. They are reaching out for reassurance. They want to know that things can be set right. Reassurance is a way of putting the human spirit to work, a way of respecting the desire of the patient to confront a new challenge, a way of summoning strength and resources for what at times may be the most strenuous fight of the patient's life. The wise physician understands these psychological imperatives and regards morale as an integral part of sound treatment.

Anxiety about hospital care is understandably common, and the pressures of time and the demands on overworked hospital personnel inevitably affect care. When patients are admitted and immediately separated from symbols of personal control and individuality--clothes, wallet, and keys--they tend to feel victimized. Recent accounts by physicians, who have themselves become patients, make clear that they and other patients are not content to be treated by technologists. …

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