This week, ReMed fellows were given the following prompt to respond to:
Time limits and professionalism sometimes prevent caregivers from opening up to patients. You may be explicitly taught not to share personal details. How might those limitations impact the dynamics between caregiver and patient and your ability to care for the whole person?
A 2016 study by Sinsky et al. found that on average, primary care visits were lasting only around 15 minutes, with under 8 of those minutes actually being used to talk to and examine patients. The doctor may be forced to rush and forego discussions not pertaining to the visit so that they do not fall behind on schedule, causing the patient to also not feel comfortable opening up to the doctor. Thus, the ability to form genuine connections between doctor and patient is lost. I think the shortage of time and emotional openness seen in patient visits is an issue that jeopardizes the ethics and effectiveness of healthcare.
For example, lack of trust in the physician-patient relationship could have consequences on patient health and satisfaction. The patient may be uncomfortable with sharing details or not feel the need to mention certain things that could be important to the diagnosis and would be missed. For example, a patient with hypertension might be treated with medicine, but a deeper conversation between the patient and the doctor would reveal that she is stressed from her job, leading to a discussion on strategies that could help to manage her stress and fix the underlying problem.
As a doctor, not being able to open up and share some humanity with a patient would be truly tragic, as most of us go into the field to take care of people. We want to build trust with a patient and help them get to the root of their issues, which can only be done through having a personal connection that is fostered through vulnerable, human conversations. If we can’t do that, we are simply treating an ailment and not giving thoughtful care to a patient. I think about the video we watched this week on empathy and the hidden stories we all have, all of the joys and sorrows that come with living. How can physicians expect to truly care for a person and walk in their shoes if they do not fully engage with their patients’ stories?