Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Two Remarkable Events

Today's conversation relates two events which occurred during this past week. Twice in one week I have had appointments with medical professionals who seemed to care about me and listened to my opinions.

O.K. So maybe they didn't actually care as much as I believed they did. But in this day and age of "You-have-3-minutes-to-tell-me-why-you-needed-an-appointment," I was extremely impressed.

Attitude is important when convincing a patient that you value your time together. Whether any reader relates to this observation depends, of course, on where he/she lives.

Location is a major indicator as to the type of health care provided these days. There are perhaps several reasons for this disparity of care. Many regions have difficulty keeping experienced health care professionals. (I will use the term "health care professionals" to include such fine folks as physicians' assistants, nurse practitioners and others as well as doctors.) A small community does not always limit the quality of care received. However, size is definitely a factor.

In the present example, I saw two physicians in connection with some kind of silly, persistent respiratory problem that seems to be lingering.

The first appointment was late last week and the physician was someone I had not seen before. He was pleasant, energetic, a good listener and seemed to have some ideas about treatment almost immediately. He ordered a breathing treatment -- which I must have needed and have received only once before in 65 years -- which helped a great deal. I was surprised about receiving this treatment because it actually requires about 10 additional minutes, 10 minutes which few doctors appear to have. After a few minutes of meeting with this doctor, I asked, "Excuse me, are you new here?" He smiled. "Yes." He then indicated that he is a "traveling doctor" who is looking to secure a position in a nearby city and is filling in where needed until then. The appointment included a great deal of interaction and discussion. He prescribed some medication and told me to come back if I wasn't better in a week. As he stopped to shake my hand, I said, "I'm not used to this type of information sharing." He smiled and said, "I know."

The second appointment was with an allergist in a nearby town, for which I had waited nearly two months. It was time to have this allergy issue revisited and turns out that some of my respiratory issues are definitely tied to good old-fashioned allergies. This physician was a true, seasoned professional who put me at ease immediately. My appointment last two hours during which I endured "scratch tests" and was advised of the results and how to proceed. After explaining what my options were to get control of my allergies, he said there are two things he aims to do with patients: give them choices so that they can feel in charge of their treatment and do so with no more medicine than is absolutely necessary.

No doubt some people reading this will not find these two physicians and their comments to be too unusual. But trust me, they are. I'm not a hypochondriac. Far from it. But I've relied on myself and my trusty old body to keep going for decades. Like an older model car, sometimes I've had to rely on "mechanics" to keep it tuned and moving on down the road. I've seen some real interesting "mechanics" along the way.

One time several years ago, I visited a physician with concerns that I was taking too much medicine which seemed to cause insomnia and nervousness. Apparently he was not used to having patients question his decisions. A few minutes into the appointment, he said, "If you are so smart, you don't need my help." He took a pen and wrote "No charge" across my chart and told me to find another doctor. I was heartbroken, having been a patient of his for over 10 years. I left and, of course, did find another physician but never forgot that episode.

Patients do have rights: to be respected by the health care provider and to trust the advice that he/she provides. But patients should keep in mind that health care providers are not infallible. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you have ideas about treatment options, share them.

Health care is a two-way street. Or at least, it should be.

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