Good afternoon. The doctor will ignore you now…

Photo credit: Emaze

I listened in on a family member’s doctor visit today. Since he may need surgery I invited myself along in case I could help explain things afterward. I was appalled by what I heard. There was no physical exam and the doc spoke rapidly without much regard for the language he was using. At one point he said with no thought for the need to simplify his language, “There is negligible absorption into the bloodstream.” While I am sure my loved one understood each word he used, I suspect he didn’t understand the implications of this statement or why it mattered relative to his condition. I suspect for him, listening to this doctor was a bit like drinking from a fire hose. Never once did the doc pause to ask if he had questions or to confirm he understood everything he was being told. The most insulting statement for me — because he made our profession look bad — was, “You can read on Google but you don’t have to ask me about what you read on Google and don’t ever send me articles and ask me to comment on what you read on Google.”

Wow! You’d never think he was there to serve patients. This is why many people don’t fully trust their doctors. It felt as though this doctor had a million things to do and seeing a patient was just another chore. Toward the end of the visit, the dialogue stopped-completely. I checked to see if my phone was still connected. I said, “Hello, what’s happening”? My loved one said, “He is typing on the computer.” The doc interjected, “[This is the bad side of medicine. The government has inserted itself between doctors and patients and now I have to document everything that happened here because of the government].” He repeated his frustration about the government interfering with patient care at least three times. I thought to myself, ‘You certainly can’t blame the government for your horrible bedside manner.’

This makes me sad because I know this doctor is not an outlier and millions of people across the country are having this experience in doctors’ offices, especially elders. And this was for a simple office visit. Imagine what is it like for hospitalizations or people with multiple chronic conditions and complex medicine regimens. How do they manage?

Photo credit: Terry Graedon

For all the talk about patient-centered health care, I was left wondering where the interventions and accountability are for doctors like him. We must find a way to interrupt this culture. How can we truly make patients the center of the health care system when we fail to treat each one with the dignity and respect no matter how long our to do list and full our waiting rooms are?

To address this problem we’ve got to call it out, all of us, once and for all. Have you had an experience like this? Tell me about it.