Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Losing your patients

In a recent post, a fellow doctor talked about the difficulty one feels when a patient leaves your practice to see another doctor. I strongly sympatize with the emotion he felt, since it has happened to me plenty as well (not too often, though - I don't want you to get the wrong impression!). No matter how good of a job you do, someone is going to be dissatisfied and not everyone is going to be happy with the job you did.

The truth is, I tell patients that once they lose their trust in me as a doctor (or any doctor, for that matter), then they should seek another physician. What physicians sell to their patients is trust. The patient trusts that the physician will seek to do what is medically best for them. They look to us to "worry more than they do," knowing what to be concerned about and when to become alarmed. The more patients feel that we are doing this, the more satisfied they are with the care we give.

It always bothers me when patients apologize for coming in. They feel that they are wasting my time with their problem. Their child, for instance, has a fever and is irritable and they wonder if they have an ear infection. When I look and see that it is not, then the parents feel they shouldn't have brought the child in. But my job is to do exactly this. This is why they pay me. How would they know if they should be worried if they don't come in to ask me. I think this is one of the keys to keeping patients satisfied. You need to respect their fears and address them. When a person has abdominal pain, they worry about appendicitis. When they have bad headaches, they worry about brain tumors. If they come in out of that fear, even if unfounded, I need to make sure that I have thought about that problem and usually I try to address it clearly.

The hard part is that some patients/parents have a hard time communicating what exactly they want. I do my best to get this from them, but am not always successful. I try to do my best, but there are times that the patient and me just don't communicate on the same level. As a doctor, you usually blame yourself, as it is in our nature to want our patients to like us and think we are a good doctor. When that does not happen, it is very important to find a new physician.

To you patients out there: don't feel bad when you change doctors. You need to find someone you can communicate with. Most physicians can sense when you don't trust what they are saying and as long as an attempt is made to communicate, it may be the best for everyone that you find a new physician. After all, who is paying who? It is your money, and if you are not satisfied with what you are getting for it, you should go somewhere that you feel it is well-spent.

Still, I would rather just make everyone happy...