Thursday, April 18, 2024

EDITORIAL: Doctors must be more polite with patients


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GOD COMPLEX – “A psychosis based in uncontrolled narcissism, inflated arrogance and a perceived need to subjugate and/or ridicule other individuals deemed to be inferior or unworthy.”

This term, never used in a complimentary fashion, is more often than not attributed to members of the medical profession – and it is not hard to understand why. Doctors play such critical roles in the lives of so many people each day that some of them can take on a persona that is larger than life itself.

That’s why when one of their own speaks out on the too often less-than-humane approach of doctors to their patients – and we may add, the families of those patients whose unreasonable and even irrational conduct can be born out of nothing more than fear and worry for their loved ones – we should all stop and listen.

President of the University of the West Indies Medical Alumni Association, Dr Michael Charles, offered some timely advice to colleagues while delivering the feature address at the Annual New Graduates Welcoming Gala And Awards Banquet over the weekend. He told the 29 young doctors: “Pride is admirable, but arrogance is a major turn-off. You don’t need to be going around saying, ‘Oh, I am Dr Charles’. Let others look at you and say, ‘He is Dr Charles and he is so humble with his position’. You must remember that your vocation is one of the most important ones, which is taking care of other human beings. So do it with pride.”

Much harsher words he reserved for more experienced colleagues: “I have seen too many times and heard too many times doctors having arguments in front of patients over the patient’s diagnosis or management. Also, you can get doctors calling in to refer a patient and that doctor is openly insulted, sometimes, in front of that patient.”

When a doctor will routinely insult one of his own, is it hard to attach a high degree of credence to the complaints of ordinary citizens that the doctors with whom they deal are cold, harsh and uncaring with their words and manner?

When patients or their relatives refer to the bedside manner of a doctor, too often it is in reference to dissatisfaction; and we therefore do not believe the assessment or advice of Dr Charles will take any member of the public by surprise. When individuals attend a doctor or are confined to a hospital bed, more often than not they are experiencing a “low point” in their lives and for them the words of their doctor are one of their few sources of comfort.

When, therefore, that doctor behaves as though a legitimate question from the patient or a member of his or her family is too much of a bother or unworthy of a response, it cannot help the healing process. When doctors behave as though their patients are too dumb to be able to understand what’s wrong with them or to comprehend how a particular drug will work or affect them, it cannot help the healing process.

When senior doctors behave as though a conversation with a patient is beneath them and dismiss any request for an exchange as something to be relegated to some intern or junior doctor, it cannot contribute to the healing process.

Ironically, some of these same doctors are the most conversational in their private offices, where they collect their fees instantly before directing the ever-important patient to the secretary to have the next appointment set. In the public hospital, however, the frequency of complaints indicates that the approach is often quite different.

So we again quote Dr Charles: “Our goal is to do the best that we can for our patients.”

That “best” cannot only refer to medical knowledge and expertise or prescribing and administering medicine. A broken spirit cannot contribute to the healing of a broken body – and doctors who revel in their obnoxious bedside manner break many a spirit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital each day.


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