An interesting article (and now old) from The New York Times describes how the doctor-patient relationship has been changed because of the increasing intrusions into a doctor’s day and increasing demands on her time.
All of us had had the experience of “disappearing” into the meditative world of a procedure and re-emerging not exhausted, but refreshed. The ritual ablutions by the scrub sink washed away the bacteria clinging to our skin and the endless paperwork threatening to choke our enthusiasm. A single rhythmic cardiac monitor replaced the relentless calls of our beepers; and nothing would matter during the long operations except the patient under our knife.
We had entered “the zone.” We were focused on nothing else but our patients and that moment.
But my more recent conversations with surgical colleagues and physicians from other specialties have had a distinctly different timbre. While we continue to deal with many of the same pressures that my mentor dealt with — decreasing autonomy, increasing administrative requirements, less control over our practice environment — the demands on our attention have gone, well, viral.
Extreme multitasking has invaded the patient-doctor relationship.
It is painfully obvious when a doctor has checked out and no longer cares about the individual patient or the patient as an individual. I’ve experienced it myself — to disastrous results.
But the article made me think a little; I know kicking that man, a doctor who didn’t treat me as singular, who was clearly used to either treating patients who didn’t question or were much older than I am and thus needed different kinds of treatments, to the curb was the best thing for me, but doctors certainly need to think about being mindful, taking joy in their profession and seeking to help their patients.
Of course, patients need to take some responsibility, too. Constantly e-mailing or phoning doctors for things that reading the drug pamphlet provided by the pharmacist could answer or unnecessarily taking up doctors’ time (notice I said unnecessarily) adds to the burnout that causes doctors to withdraw. I think sometimes we too often think of doctors as adversaries or as their job, instead of realising they are people too. I think more mindful doctors — and patients — would lead to better relationships and overall better care.
Food for thought, I guess, about doctors, who really are a lifeline for their chronically-ill patients.