Louisville Medicine Volume 67, Issue 3 - Page 6

BEING ON THE OTHER SIDE: NOW I’M THE PATIENT A s I approach my seventh decade on this planet, I am realizing some inevitable truths. One particular truth that has become apparent as of late, is that my body is not the body that I once had in those younger years. Alas, I find myself on the other side of the doctor’s office as the patient. As an ophthalmologist, I frequently see my patients’ frustration when they come to me in their 40s noting they are losing their reading vision. I remember feeling the same way and reassure them I understand as I must also wear either glasses or contacts in order to go about my daily activities. Oh, but could we be so lucky if this were the only annoyance of aging! Not to be cliché, but I recall a movie, years ago, called “The Doctor” starring William Hurt. He was a successful surgeon with a very poor bedside manner. The plot revolved around his character, Dr. Jack McKee, who developed laryngeal cancer, abruptly and begrudgingly entering into the role as patient. The plot is certainly predictable: he has a personal epiphany regarding his role as both doctor and now patient, mostly realized through the development of a close relationship with a fellow cancer patient. So, while a bit prosaic, it does speak to how we must be very conscious and respectful of our patients’ view of their care. The hassle of calling to make appointments, being placed on hold, making an appointment and having it later cancelled because the doctor is going to be out of the office that day, are just some of the issues patients face. Then there are the copays, potential fuss over insurance coverage (or the lack thereof), diagnostic testing and the ever-so-long wait for the inner sanctum of the doctor’s office, which sadly enough, often accompany the patient experience. We mustn’t forget this is all in the backdrop of the overarching general worry and concern about our health. What is the diagnosis? How serious is this? What are the treatment options? How will this affect family, work, i.e. Life? Mercifully, my health issues are not 4 LOUISVILLE MEDICINE so dire and, as a physician, I have the luxury of understanding these foibles, which certainly helps when navigating the “system.” However, it has placed me in the role of a patient nonetheless, uncomfortably, with all of these accoutrements. Additionally, medical care today has radically changed in both positive and negative ways by the use of the electronic medical record (EMR). Even though we have the ability to care for patients in a more structured and consistent manner by using electronic records, we have created barriers in how we communicate with them. Being recently on the other side of the chair, I have noted this and see my own physician colleagues struggle, as I have, to maintain adequate communication and personalization of care whilst attending to the ever-pressing EMR “needs.” This experience reminded me of why we began utilizing scribes in my own practice, allowing me to make direct eye contact with the patient during examination and care discussions. This is exquisitely important for reading non-verbal cues, sensing when a patient might require more time and conversation regarding their care plan. My recent experience as a patient has validated for me the extent to which the EMR can place effective patient-physician relationships at risk. The world of the doctor and that of the patient are indeed different. To bring them closer together, I suggest the next time you are in your office or at the hospital, try walking in your patients’ shoes. Is your practice being sensitive to your patients’ needs? Are you and your staff helping them navigate the very complex waters of our health care system? Are you communicating with them in an effective manner? Do they understand their medical problems, medications, treatment options and how this might impact their life? By becoming the patient, whether literally or figuratively, we transform ourselves into more effective compassionate physicians. Dr. Burns is a private practice ophthalmologist. His practice, Middletown Eye Care, is located in Middletown, KY.