Eric Murray – A patient in search of a doctor |

Eric Murray – A patient in search of a doctor

Eric Murray / Grand Health
Kremmling, CO Colorado

Sally sat quietly while the doctor performed a thorough physical examination. When the exam was finally finished, the doctor thanked her for being a “good patient.” Sally wasn’t sure that was a compliment.

The term “patient” implies a passive attitude that most Americans today on either side of the doctor/patient relationship are reluctant to accept.

Doctors, of course, like patients to be compliant with treatment. Too many patients neglect to take their medications and simply ignore recommendations to lose weight, exercise or eat a healthier diet. But a good doctor also likes patients who participate in their treatment.

A doctor’s definition of a good patient is likely to include the following attributes:

TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR STAYING HEALTHY: A good patient follows healthy practices such as regular exercise, a good diet and not smoking, and the doctor appreciates knowing about these healthy behaviors (as well as the unhealthy ones).

PREPARED AND ORGANIZED: One doctor writes on his blog that “smart patients are well organized and store their medical records and reports carefully.” Not everyone is a meticulous record keeper, but it’s important that patients note changes in cholesterol and blood pressure as well as symptoms that may signal the early stages of an illness. To help the doctor in making a diagnosis, a good patient takes careful note of the exact nature of the symptom and when it occurs.

RESPECTFUL: A patient’s respect for the doctor’s expertise should not be blind, but the patient has come requesting help, and the doctor brings knowledge, training and experience to the encounter.

And there is also the matter of objectivity. When a doctor becomes ill, he or she goes to another doctor. According to the old saying: the doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient.

INFORMED: Good patients “do their homework and research, so they can ask the doctor targeted questions which apply to their specific problem,” writes the doctor quoted above. “The better your questions, the better his answers!”

Medical information is readily available online, although it’s important for the patient to find medically reliable sources, unbiased and evidence-based. Because a good patient is interested in staying healthy, he or she wants not just any doctor but a good doctor. Ideally, the relationship should begin long before any serious medical condition develops so that mutual trust can be developed.

On the other side, most patients would list the following among the attributes they’re looking for in a doctor:

WILLING TO LISTEN, ABLE TO COMMUNICATE: When Elaine was diagnosed with high blood pressure, she wanted more than a prescription and a recommendation to “exercise more, cut back on salt and lose some weight.” How much should she exercise and at what intensity? How much weight loss? How much sodium? Why is a beta blocker better for her than a diuretic?

Doctors face increasingly severe time constraints, but listening is an important part of the job description. In order to make good treatment decisions, a doctor needs information about the patient’s diet, activity patterns, workplace stress and family medical history.

While some patients may give too much or the wrong kind of detail, a good doctor is able to keep the discussion focused and on track.

CARING: Caring is another attribute that most patients find important in a health care professional. When Robert was diagnosed with a terminal cancer, his doctor broke the news to him without warning when he was alone in his hospital room. The message to Robert and his wife was that the doctor didn’t care. And they changed doctors.

EXPERTISE, EXPERIENCE: When faced with the prospect of prostate surgery, angioplasty or hip replacement, a patient wants the best doctor available and should be willing to shop – by word of mouth or by Internet – for one with the requisite training, skill and experience.

It should not be embarrassing for the patient to ask: How many of these procedures have you performed? Results are better when the surgical team performs a procedure frequently.

EFFICIENT: A good doctor is also concerned about controlling costs and avoiding unnecessary tests and procedures – even if the patient feels these are necessary.

Good doctors and good patients go together. They both realize the importance of sound information, evidence-based treatment and a give-and-take between a skilled professional and a person who is patient enough to accept professional advice … but eager to participate in the process of becoming well.

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