Do you trust your doctor?

I’ve had a casual but persistent interest in the doctor-patient relationship since an assignment I had in dental hygiene school. We had to write a paper on a healthcare topic of our choosing. I chose defensive medicine. Basically, this occurs when a doctor’s fear of litigation drives their decisions: unnecessary tests may be ordered, for example. Or, a doctor may give up some part of their practice altogether, such as obstetrics.

Long story short, I learned that a good doctor-patient relationship can reduce the likelihood of litigation. If a patient trusts his or her doctor, he or she is less likely to sue. Of course, this is not the only reason to have a good relationship with your healthcare provider. With trust and respect, you are more likely to follow your doctor’s instructions and be healthier as a result.

This goes for dentistry, too. Let’s say your dentist tells you that you need a crown while you’re flat on your back with the light in your eyes and then leaves the room. You might think he just wants to make a payment on his Lexus, and you’re probably going to tell the front desk that you’ll schedule it later, and then you probably never will. Now let’s take that same tooth, but change the dentist’s behavior towards the patient. This time, he raises chair back up, pulls his mask down, and shows you a photo and/or x-ray of your tooth. He explains why he wants to crown this tooth and what might happen if you choose not to. Now, you might still be thinking about his Lexus, but I would bet that you would have a much better relationship with this doctor now. And if you went ahead and got that crown, you might save yourself from breaking the tooth, exposing the pulp chamber (where the nerves are), and needing endodontic treatment (a root canal) or extraction (pulling the tooth).

All of this came to mind because of this video of the author of Cutting for Stone, which I recently finished and recommend.

Abraham Verghese: A doctor’s touch

Modern medicine is in danger of losing a powerful, old-fashioned tool: human touch. Physician and writer Abraham Verghese describes our strange new world where patients are merely data points, and calls for a return to the traditional one-on-one physical exam.

In our era of the patient-as-data-point, Abraham Verghese believes in the old-fashioned physical exam, the bedside chat, the power of informed observation.