How much transparency should a doctor offer to a patient? Should we let our patients get to know us?
I am talking not only about showing our patients our degrees, the conferences we attended, all the training we have done to let them asses our professional skills. It’s about letting them trust us by knowing who we are, knowing our personality, our values, our hobbies, getting a sense of our vibe as a person, so that we won’t have just a rigid exchange of services.
Medicine is personal, both ways. A vulnerable patient comes to us, he lets us touch parts of his body that aren’t touched by strangers, inject stuff in him, cut him open, therefore… we need to gain his trust. This is the only way we can lower his anxiety about the medical experience, respect a healthcare plan together, with a proactive approach.
This “personal” dilemma popped into my head even since I was a student, when I wanted to start this blog. The idea came from a project where I think I was the only medical student (experiences outside Medicine could be dangerous 🙂 ). We were talking about self-expression, writing and creating a blog, but when I got home, I started being afraid. What seemed a really amazing idea at first, now felt like a threatening something for my position as a future doctor. It is possible that by exposing myself I would become more… vulnerable? If people got to know me personally, would they trust my professional skills? It was an inner debate: do patients trust somebody they go out with, somebody they see in other human interactions or someone who seems very professional, like rigid, portraying only a scientific mechanism that can fix them? My website had poetry, articles about love, life and a lot of writings that had nothing to do with Medicine… Even after the blog was entirely done, there was a period of 6 months where I was just thinking about cancelling its release. In the end, I considered that the people I will interact with, will get to know me anyway, so I went with transparency- you know who I am as a human, because I think it is a key part of the empathy we all need in Medicine.
A doctor it is not there to be your best friend, is someone who treats you, not a shoulder to cry on.
I understand this approach, but at the same time I think we should find a middle path to be a friendly doctor. We need to be there as a skilled human, always improving to have something to offer- the best solutions for our patients’ healthcare. This exposure and showing our humanity allows us to open a bridge, a form of connection with our patients. This is a great way to create a warm space for our patients to show their vulnerabilities. I believe a patient wants to be listened, to be seen as a human with his core believes, his wants and needs. As a doctor, it’s my responsibility to know: does my patient want an abortion, to donate blood or receive a blood transfusion, to receive CPR, to be an organ donor, does my patient want treatment or live the remaining days home, near their loved ones? Even if we do blood tests, we rely on the information we receive from our patients. There are cases when it is crucial so, by having patients that trust us, who feel listened, seen and respected, we also have patients who open up and really listen to what we are saying and are attentive to their healthcare. As doctors, we have to offer treatment in the limits of our patients’ approach on life and death.
I am on a pledge for a personal doctor-patient relationship. Only through this kind of a friendly professional interaction we can build a sustainable team work to offer our patients a healthy life, one where they feel they can face health problems even if they end up dying. I know this is hard to process and many doctors say they have to be detached to protect themselves. At the end of the day, if we get personal= human as they come with a private issue, we win more in results. Therefore, we have a greater satisfaction by doing our job, because we know that we did our best.
Technology is evolving, helping us offer better treatments, sometimes by putting a diagnosis without actually touching/ seeing the patient, but this doesn’t help us provide a real qualitative doctor-patient relationship, gain our patients’ trust to do what’s best for our health. The satisfaction we get from a great interaction with our patients is the best protection for our emotional health, as doctors. The sad part is we will probably understand it only as patients…
A doctor should be your best friend, as your health status is the foundation for a wealthy life where you can hunt your potential both personally and professionally!