How Doctors are Hurting You
by kmcat1 on February 17, 2014 - 9:40pm
Almost one year ago I had all four of my wisdom teeth extracted. During the consultation for this procedure I watched a lengthy video on all the complications that can occur as a result of the surgery; nerve damage, jaw fracture, sinus cavity deformities and death to name some of the more terrifying ones. After this informative yet terrifying video the nurse came back into the dark room where I was seated and asked if I had any questions. I asked her if I could talk to the surgeon who was going to perform this procedure and she informed me that he was not involved in the consultation appointments, but ensured me he was extremely experienced and qualified. When it finally came time for the surgery I was able to talk briefly with the surgeon, whose name escapes me, before I was made incoherent by nitrous oxide. Fortunately, none of the previously stated complications occurred, but I still felt extremely uneasy about the procedure.
Shannon Brownlee (2012) of Newsweek magazine elaborates on this trend of decreased interaction between patients and physicians in her article titled The Doctor Will See You-If You’re Quick. Brownlee (2012) claims that the main reasons primary care physicians spend less time with patients is a result of physicians receiving lower wages. Brownlee (2012) notes that physicians’ income decreased by ten percent between the years of 1995 and 2003. Primary care physicians began to make up for lost wages by increasing both the number of patients in their panel as well as by seeing more patients each day; this means less time spent with each patient. Brownlee (2012) supports these claims by citing a study showing physicians could no longer ensure quality care for all their patients due to the size of their panels. Brownlee (2012) also provides the staggering statistic that on average a patient has 23 seconds to discuss their symptoms before being interrupted. This article exposes some of the issues that have risen as a result of shorter patient visits. Lack of trust, impersonalized visits, incorrect prescription and too many prescriptions have resulted from this decreased doctor-patient relationship (Brownlee, 2012). Some of the latent effects noted in the article were a decrease in what Brownlee (2012) termed a therapeutic relationship. This is the notion that the more informed and comfortable a patient is, when with a physician, the better the patients’ overall health. Research determined that patients were healthier the more a physician listened and seriously took note of their feelings and symptoms; thus there is a statistical correlation between patient health and amount of time spent with the physician. (Brownlee, 2012). Brownlee (2012) concludes her article with several measures currently in place that are attempting to correct this deteriorating relationship: medical school interviews that focus on people skills, seminars for medical school students that focus on communication and having doctors work alongside other clinicians to give them more time with patients.
It seems through reading Brownlee’s article that I am not alone when it comes to impersonal visits with a doctor. Brownlee conveyed not only the deteriorating therapeutic relationship that exists in the medical profession, but she also gave reasons as to why this was occurring as well as manners in which it could be corrected. She did so in a passive voice that never seemed to belittle the medical profession as a whole. She offered low wages as the contributing factor for shorter doctor visits rather than blaming the physicians themselves. Although this made me more forgiving towards my surgeon who neglected to make an appearance at my wisdom teeth consultation, the problem still stands that patients are being adversely affected by these practices. While it was never explicitly stated, I feel this article serves as a call to action for its readers. The readers are the people, like myself, who are experiencing and being affected by these shorter visits; for this reason we are the ones who need to elicit change. I believe Brownlee wants her readers to demand physicians who can truly connect to patients and resurrect the therapeutic relationship. By doing this physicians will either begin taking more time for each patient or they will lose patients thus opening their schedules. What is a physician who has no patience anyway?
Brownlee, Shannon. (2012). The doctor will see you-if you’re quick. Newsweek, 159, 46-50.