“A patient is not an interruption of our work … they are the purpose of it. We are not doing our patients a favor by serving them. They are doing us a favor by giving us the opportunity to do so.”
That quotation (despite a grammatical error) immediately caught my eye—and pierced my heart. First, the quote sounded so familiar, but I couldn’t place it. (A Google search later on revealed that it paraphrases a 1921 quote from Cleveland Clinic co-founder William E. Lower, MD.)
Second, I thought, “What a beautiful practice philosophy. What a great message to communicate to patients.”
And, may I add, what a teaching lesson for medical students, interns and residents.
I found the quotation on a third-class mail flyer promoting a Miami-area clinic. The advertising piece told me something about the clinic’s management and staff: Either they were patient-oriented or they knew how to sell. In any case, the quotation was great and it changed my initial impression of the clinic.
Many physicians, I am sure, practice this way, whether they know the
quotation or not. But some physicians practice the reverse.
Let me give you a personal example. I had come out of anesthesia after a colonoscopy and was getting dressed when my gastroenterologist stuck his head in the room to see if I was all right—he did not examine me. I said, “I have a couple of questions.” As he continued to back out of the room, he shot back, “I really don’t have time.”
What? No time to answer a post-operative patient’s questions (without knowing how urgent or serious they were)? And no “Call me this afternoon after 2 o’clock and I’ll be glad to answer you” or “I’ll call you tonight” or anything else that would have told me he was interested enough and willing—at a later time—to give me the information I needed.
Needless to say, I never went back to him. He had communicated clearly to me that I was an interruption to his schedule. Yes, I did inform him of my dissatisfaction.
Some physicians may have to think about such poor behavior in a context other than medicine to really appreciate the patient-centered philosophy promoted in the clinic flyer.
Suppose your lawyer treated you as an interruption to his or her schedule? How long would you stay with that lawyer? Even more to the point, most of us have experienced inconsiderate behavior in a retail store—a rude clerk, an inattentive salesperson, a merchant who abandons us for someone else. I know how I have felt. I’m sure every physician has been in that situation.
In business, it is understood that you must treat customers fairly and kindly if you expect them to return—even to the extent of believing “the customer is always right.” While many physicians resent analogies to business, the philosophy remains the same.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could inculcate a “patients first” outlook in our trainees and maybe help ensure good care for future patients?
It’s worth reading that quotation again and following it. You will enjoy practice even more—while treating happier patients.