Patients as Friends and Family

by | Nov 16, 2015 | Reflection

OK, I’ll admit. I’m the Will Rogers of Primary Care. You know, he is famously quoted as having said, “I never met a man that I didn’t like.” Well, that’s pretty much me and it’s more or less a philosophy of my practice: Patients are like friends and family. So try to treat them that way.

Now, this philosophy should be a problem according to what was taught to me in my professional training. After all, one cannot be medically objective about someone with whom you have a personal relationship. The medical professional, they say, runs the risk of being manipulated or of rendering inappropriate treatment because of a sick need to be liked and accepted. A doctor must be objective and detached, they say. Feelings and intuition have no place in clinical diagnosis and treatment.

Bull. All the knowledge and clinical acumen in the world are no substitute for a caring relationship. For people whom I have seen only once, there is already developing a sense of knowing. With that kind of connection, you don’t need a lab test to know if something is wrong. Facial expression, tone of voice, body language says in fifteen seconds what hours of diagnostic probing will only confirm.

Even if the details of their medical history and specific situation must be refreshed in my memory by a quick perusal of the last few sets of visit notes, there is always the sense that we are continuing where we left off the last time a conversation about life. I know this person.  Long-time patients know if I’m having a bad day. They know me, too. The caring is mutual.

If someone asks me if I like my job, I say, “Who wouldn’t like a job where every day you get to come in and see twenty or thirty friends?”