Even Communication in Medicine is Sterile Now!

Growing up, I would watch Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, and I read Little House on the Prairie books.  Life moved at a slower pace in both of these settings, and this gave me a warped judgement of how medicine really was.  However, even the more modern medicine I received when I had to go to the pediatrician was decent.  The doctor seemed to listen and care. However, something happened over the years, and the changes are affecting everyone.  As insurance issues arose, greed and business maneuvering became a major component in healthcare. Laws restricted healthcare, litigation was overabundant, and the humanity has been replaced by a sterile environment which prioritizes other concerns as higher order concerns over the patient.

There are still great doctors out there who operate within the confines of their job to provide incredible care.  It is becoming more rare though as medical students are rushed through clinicals, and doctors have to ensure they can meet the needs of the masses.  Everything begins in the way students are taught the science of the body instead of the art of the body when both are equally important.  To understand a patient’s psychological state through communication, a great deal about their physical manifestations can be revealed.  Yet, the patient is often ignored, or targeted questions are asked without time for the patient to speak freely.

Some medical programs, like the one at Columbia University, are now including a more artistic approach to medicine, helping students to gain the typical medical knowledge needed while retaining the ability to see the humanity in medicine.  This allows them to feel the empathy needed to connect with patients and to grasp concepts that have been lost along the way.  This is a new trend which will hopefully continue, but in the meantime, many people are caught in terrible situations, caught in a sterile medical world without a sense of sympathy or empathy.  The walls may be as cold as the people attending them, and this is terrifying.

When patients and caregivers are faced with this world, where a phone call to the doctor becomes phone tag with voicemail and nurses, and care is placed on the back burner until insurance referrals can be completed, the world becomes more lonely.  There are so many who go through this, yet while they endure this sterile dilemma, they feel as though they are alone.  Sometimes, an entire day or longer can be spent negotiating care, handling prescription authorizations, and dealing with fine print.  Then, when this system is figured out, insurance changes, and everything must be repeated.

Caregivers and patients want to feel warmth when they are seeking care, because illness is suffocating enough.  The patient often loses a great deal of control and dignity in their life, and a reassuring smile, empathy, and 5 or 10 extra minutes of a doctor’s time can make them feel more confident in their care.  A happier patient should lead to a higher potential for recovery if recovery is possible.  A stressed and lonely patient may have more problems beginning with psychological ones.

So, where do we go now?  How can we make changes?  It is obviously not an overnight process.  There are games played between healthcare and insurance companies with a governmental referee, and the game is in overtime.  There are resolutions to be had, but we are overdue.  If more medical schools implement programs to encourage development of empathy to coincide with medical training, there could be positive results, however, there needs to be changes implemented in the government and in insurance companies as well.  Priorities need to change, and people need to demand better care.  The more people who stand up or speak out against these injustices, the more likely change will eventually occur, even if it is in baby steps.  What concerns do you have, and do you see options for change?  I would love to hear the opinion of others on this truly important topic!

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