Yesterday, our Health Headlines included a study mentioned in the Washington Post that revealed that we are more comfortable and satisfied with our communications with our clinicians when they sit down to talk with us. This study surveyed patients while in a hospital but surely this is true in office visit settings too.
I can distinctly remember just a few meetings with different doctors when AFTER I put my clothes back on we sat across from each other in the office and discussed my diagnosis, treatment plans or likely next steps. The most memorable of these meetings was a few days following two suspicious cancer screening tests. We met for an hour'I clearly remember the books on the wall behind him and the color of his shirt. What a difference it made to have that private, safe space and those eye-level conversations. I felt both reassured and supported by a doctor who could both advise me and be a partner in my health choices and actions.
In the March 25th issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, Pamela Hartzband and Jerome Groopman's essay, Untangling the Web Patients, Doctors, and the Internet shared their perspectives on the role of the clinician-patient relationship in our Dr. Google age: We should pay close attention to any unintentional fraying of the physician'patient bond. ''Although the Internet is reshaping the content of the conversation between doctor and patient, we believe the core relationship should not change. And Lisa Gaultieri, writing in The Health Care Blog about EHR Etiquette eloquently describes how the presence of a computer in a clinical visit can hinder or enhance the quality of the interaction and the experience of both the patient and the provider.
To my surprise, I experienced an echo of the intimacy and bond of those eye-level encounters when my doctor sent me an e-mail message about having received my medical records and another that the office was closed and how I could reach them during Washington's recent Snowpocalypse. These simple staying-in-touch messages have given me a new confidence that I can speak up more about my questions and concerns and that my doctor will both listen to and learn from me. My doctor seems more familiar and approachable now.
I wonder if this will actually hold true when we meet again in-person later this month and when times come down the road that big decisions have to be made. Will my doctor really be willing to routinely pull up a chair to talk to me in-person or at a keyboard?