When I teach my Public Health students and when I hold Grand Rounds sessions with medical students, the issue of patient interaction is always a hot topic. Many scientific minds see the world in clinical terms because it helps remove the heat of emotion from the diagnosis and the healing.

The problem with treating patients in a cool, clinical, manner is people often become reduced to numbers in a blood test and a name on a patient chart. “There isn’t enough time to care,” one student told me. “We’re overwhelmed and the patient is the product.”

Releasing, for a moment, the idea a medical students sees someone in need of help as a “product” — let’s examine the exponential effect of that attitude: Coldness, uncaring interaction and disdain for those “products” that do not appropriately respond to the latest therapeutic routines.

It’s all a prescription for disaster! The danger, it seems to me, in not being connected with a patient is to miss the small things that change over time that might be a clue to what’s really wrong. Talking to a patient is too often viewed by MDs as a task and not a delight of the day. When I suggest an MD sit next to the bed and talk to the patient, some students raise their hand to argue, “That’s what nurses are for. They care about the patient. We care about medicine.”

That’s the heart of the problem with most medical care today: Heartless care is provided in the name of medicine and not people. Doctors don’t “practice medicine” — they are really slaves to disease — their job is to discover and to mend and to heal others; and you best do that by loving your patients instead of hating them, or by being neutral to them or by being distant in their time of need. “Love your patients,”

I urge my students, “Because what other choice do you have as the role of the Healer in your culture? You don’t just heal people with your mind or your hands. Sometimes the miracle of healing comes from the warmth of your heart.”

7 Comments

  1. A doctor’s first job should be to see that people don’t get sick in the first place. Healthy diet, exercise when needed, rest when needed would greatly help. If diet is taught today in medical school, it is a fairly recent addition to the curriculum. The situation is, that if people never got sick, doctors would be out of business, so unconsciously at least many doctors want sick patients. Perhaps this accounts for the gross over medication of so many patients. i have known people who consume as much medication as food. It is similar to crime fighters neeeding crime, and soldiers needing enemys.

  2. fred —
    I am not following your logic. It seems you are arguing for a stronger Public Health awareness system and direct government intervention to educate, save or mandate better health.
    Doctors, it seems, should be reserved for those that a general Public Health program cannot save. Doctors are slaves to disease, but the job of the sentry belongs to those vested in caring for the public health of the citizenry.
    There are doctors who shoo away patients with pills and I disagree with that philosophy of healing, but there are also doctors who wish to prescribe truckloads of, say, painkillers, for the terminally ill or those stuck in verifiably chronically painful bodies — but they cannot prescribe those medications because the current government system labels them “Dealers” instead of “Doctors” for prosecution of distribution.

  3. There are a few doctors out there, like Doctor Andrew Weil, or Dr. Michael Greger (who is also known as the “Vegan MD” who will give you a ‘prescription’ of, say, cutting sugar out of your diet, or animal entirely.
    You wrote an article a few years ago about how you went vegan and that your doctor said you couldn’t reduce your cholestorol without pills and you proved him wrong – how great would it have been if he had been the one to say, “David, try a vegan diet”? Hmm.
    That’s the kind of doctor I’d pay good money to see.

  4. I’d like to add that doctors will never go out of business because even if they all told people about keeping a healthy diet and exercise, most people find it easier to do things that break them and then go in for a fix than to do all of the necessary preventative work to avoid breakage 🙂

  5. Recently I had the occasion to bring my 79 year-old father to a doctor. He had not seen a doctor in over 40 years. I truly was afraid for him because of the experience I had working with doctors. I had come to the conclusion that there were very few doctors who took the time and listened to their patients’ concerns and hearts. The physician/surgeon who attended my father was wonderful. The medicine that he dispensed initially was his smile and his pleasant voice. After talking with my father the physican left the room. It was then that I asked my father about how he felt. His response was, “after talking with that doctor, with that kind of attitude I feel better already. He makes you feel better just talking to him.”
    My father’s doctor made him better, not only with his medical treatment but also with his soothing words, warm smile and heart.