A simple way to help your doctor beat burnout

“What would you say to your doctor on your deathbed?”

 

What would you say to your doctor on your deathbed?

Would you remind them of the times you waited weeks  for an appointment or sat  in the waiting room long past your scheduled appointment time?

Would you ask them why they didn’t try harder to cure you? Would you ask why all the tests and medicines they ordered didn’t work to save your life?

Or would you ask, “How was your vacation?”

family skiing on mountain
one of many vacations with my family 

 

 

A patient named Rosemary

One woman did. In a JAMA  essay (Journal of the AMA), Dr. Wendy Stead , an internal medicine physician, described her patient, Rosemary, who “never had a bad interaction with any of her health professionals. After a clinic visit, or hospital stay, she will rave about the excellent care she received from the many teams involved.”

“This is not because we are all such exceptional caregivers.” she admitted. “It is because of the kind of patient she is..the kind who probes for the person behind the doctor.

When Rosemary was terminally ill, Dr. Stead left on a family vacation, fearing that her patient would die while she was gone. As soon as she returned, she went to Rosemary’s home to visit one last time.

Now so weak, Rosemary was confined to bed, and could barely speak. As Dr. Stead leaned over the bed straining to hear her, Rosemary asked,  “How was your vacation?”

 

Probe for the person behind the doctor

 

Dr. Aletha dancing
I actively pursue a hobby-ballroom dancing.

 

 

Do you know if your doctor has children or grandchildren?

What hobbies they pursue?

Who is their favorite sports team?

 

 

 

 

My husband and his eye doctor share an interest in  the Oklahoma City Thunder basketball team. At each visit, he and Dr. Nanda spend a few minutes discussing the team’s progress, good or bad.  It makes what otherwise would be a dry, routine visit into a special occasion. I think Dr. Nanda enjoys it as much as Raymond does.

Chesapeake Arena
Chesapeake Arena, home of our beloved Thunder Basketball team – Dr. Nanda has season tickets and follows the team closely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I was expecting my second son, William and Audrey became my patients. William had multiple serious health conditions but he was always positive and never complained.

During his frequent office visits, they never failed to inquire about the progress of my pregnancy. After I delivered they always asked about my new baby boy.

When I walked into the exam room, William’s first words were always, “How are you Doc?” And the next words were, “How’s the baby?”- even though by the time William passed away, my “baby” was in kindergarten.

woman with a toddler
Me with “the baby”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing doctors and patients as people

For physicians, our patients’ “social histories” help us understand factors in your life that impact your health -where you live, your job, your family, your hobbies . Besides that, we enjoy getting to know you, especially the things that make you and your life unique and interesting. Dr. Stead points out that when our patients learn our social history we “build an even stronger bridge that goes both ways.”

Now you probably won’t have the time or interest to “probe” every doctor you see, maybe just those you see regularly . Exchanging a few social words can make the encounter more satisfying for both of you. Some of us will be more open about sharing our personal lives, and some subjects may be off limits. But I don’t think any of us will object to honest, caring interest in our lives outside of medicine.

“As healthcare professionals we like to think of compassion as a limitless resource, but some days even the deepest well can feel like it’s running dry. Patients like Rosemary refill the well. They make us better doctors for all our patients.” Dr. Stead 

 

Burnout- bad for doctors and patients

Leaders in the medical community recognize the high and increasing rate of burnout in physicians. In burnout, physicians feel exhausted,  lack enthusiasm about work, lose motivation, and feel cynical about the value of the medical profession. Some estimate as many as 50% of physicians in the United States experience burnout.

Perhaps even more common among physicians is compassion fatigue, which can affect anyone involved intensely in helping others. Compassion fatigue occurs when a helper begins to feel overwhelmed and stressed from their efforts to relieve the pain and suffering of those they help. As they give more of themselves and neglect self care, they in turn become traumatized by their own efforts.

(Photo credit-American Academy of Family Physicians)

 

Doctors on the “front lines” of medicine -family physicians, emergency physicians, internists, pediatricians, psychiatrists- are especially vulnerable to burnout and compassion fatigue as are other health care workers, police, social workers, teachers and disaster workers.

 

 

 

 

 

Why should you care about physician burnout and compassion fatigue?

Factors causing physician burnout include the technological and bureaucratic hassles in medical practice that hinder doctors from spending adequate and quality time with patients and interfere with our ability to care for patients in the way we believe is best.

Studies suggest that burnout causes physicians to spend less time providing direct care to patients, and that care may be less efficient and effective. 

 

According to observational studies of physicians at work, we spend 50% of our time doing paper/computer work about the care we provide the other 50% of the time. (photo credit- American Academy of Family Physicians)

 

 

 

 

 

March 30 is National Doctor’s Day, a day designated by Congress to honor doctors.

One way you can honor your doctor is by trying to connect personally next time you visit. By doing so, you may get a glimpse of the “person behind the doctor” ; empathy can go both ways. If you see your doctor as a person with a life not that different from yours, you may see your interaction as a partnership and  find it easier to communicate .

And better communication can lead to better care for you. See my previous post

3 keys to effective communication with your doctor

Why patients sue their doctors

Dr. Aletha examining an infant on a volunteer trip
Volunteering to serve where we are most needed is one way physicians can recover from burnout and compassion fatigue.

 

Read  here about how government regulations contribute to physician stress

And here about efforts to reverse and prevent physician burnout

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks for exploring the HEART of health with me. Please consider these affiliates which help this blog inform and inspire wellness and wholeness throughout the world.

Dr.Aletha a world globe with two crossed bandaids

 

 

 

 

Do you know the best questions to ask about your healthcare?

expectations, concerns, obstacles-medical communication #askthedoctor

I blog about healthcare communication because you need to understand your doctor better and  we doctors need to understand our patients’ expectations, concerns and obstacles.

Physicians should  use clear understandable plain language with patients. Patients should also be clear and specific when they talk to their doctor.

You may think your doctor knows exactly what you mean, but sometimes we are left trying to read between the lines of what you tell us.

Dr. Aletha talking to a mother and her son
Talking to a patient through an interpreter makes communication extra challenging.

You know it’s important to tell us details of your symptoms, medical history, family history, habits, and other medical facts.   But besides medical information about you , we need to know

Your expectations about your care,

Your concerns about your care,

Your obstacles to getting care,

You may wonder, won’t or shouldn’t my doctor ask me theses questions? Sure, we can ask and probably will, but by volunteering it , you start dialogue that gets you and your doctor communicating effectively much faster. Your doctor knows about disease, but you as the patient know the experience of the illness much better. 

Let me illustrate by giving you some examples. These are all statements patients say  to me in my daily practice. The original statements aren’t bad or wrong, but by rephrasing to add some additional detail they  give your doctor valuable information that will help provide you the best care possible.

The underlined words can be substituted for others listed in parentheses.  The exact words aren’t as important as the  message they convey. 

Hello doctor, I’m here because I want my thyroid checked.

(substitute heart, lungs, cholesterol, blood sugar, kidneys, etc.)

Instead try-

Hello doctor, I’m tired a lot, and wondered if it might be a thyroid problem or something else. What testing would help us find out what’s wrong with me?

It’s better not to limit your doctor to checking just one thing, when there are many possible explanations for your symptoms. You expect a thyroid check, but you’re open to other possibilities.

tubes used to collect blood samples in a lab

 

Doctor, I feel terrible and think I have  pneumonia. The last time I felt like this the doctor said it was pneumonia, so it must be that again.

( sub kidney infection, strep throat, sinus infection)

But if you say this

Doctor, I feel so sick. This illness is similar to when I was diagnosed with pneumonia and I’m afraid I have it again. I am concerned it’s pneumonia again so  I’m here to find out what is wrong, as I realize it may be something else.

You’ve told the doctor your concern about pneumonia but you’re not trying to diagnose yourself.

 

 

I have a family history of cancer so I want to have a mammogram.

(sub any other cancer, heart disease, stroke and other tests)

That’s good, but this is better.

Doctor, I’m concerned about breast cancer as it runs in my family. My grandmother was diagnosed at age 45 and now my sister has been, and she is 40. Do I need a mammogram or any other testing now?

Knowing who in your family had a disease and at what ages helps the doctor make an accurate recommendation. It also tells your doctor this may be an emotional issue  (concern)  for you.

Top 10 cancers in the U.S.

 

 

I need an antibiotic (anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxer, steroid, shot )  for this; I know because my previous doctor always gave me one for this.

Please try this instead:

When I had this before my doctor prescribed an antibiotic; I wonder if that would be appropriate this time?

This tells the doctor your expectation, but also that  you are open to different  advice/recommendation. (and avoid getting a medication you don’t need.) 

6 smart facts about antibiotic use

 

 

 

Will my insurance pay for this? How much will this cost me? Is this an expensive drug?

Patients may expect us to know about insurance and cost, but often we don’t. We can work with you on financial issues if we know more about your obstacle. Try asking-

I need to find out if this is covered by my insurance. Can someone in your office look that up, or help me find out?

I’ve had a lot of medical bills this year that have stretched my budget. I will need to find out what my out of pocket cost will be before scheduling this test. Can your office help me with that?

If there is a generic version of this drug that will work just as well, I would like it, to minimize my out of pocket cost. If not, is there another alternative?

 

 

Is this drug safe? (effective, good, best, dangerous, harmful)  

Few things are 100% safe. But what we can discuss with you is –

What are the risks and side effects of this drug? Is the benefit I get from the drug worth the risks? Are there alternatives that would be effective and less risky?

We always should be concerned about drug use, and safety isn’t the only issue. Don’t hesitate to ask questions.

medication capsules

 

 

 

 

 

How long will I be off work? When can I go back to work?

Here’s what your doctor needs to know –

My job requires me to stand and walk for several hours?

(sit and type; talk on the telephone; drive long distances in my car)

And here’s what you need to ask:

How soon should I expect my stamina to return so I can work part time? Full time?

When can I safely work without interfering with my recovery?

What can I do to hasten my recovery so I can return to work sooner?

Both  you and your employer, need to know when it is safe to return to work.  We have to balance health concerns with your financial concerns and what is expected and allowed by your employer and the law. 

If you are clear  with your concerns and obstacles  and flexible in your expectations it will be easier for your doctor to make the right decision.

 

 

These are just a few examples. I’m sure you can think of others.

Whenever you have a need to consult a physician, think ahead of what your

expectations, concerns and obstacles are before you make the visit so you’ll  be

prepared to share .

Here are  more tips on talking with your doctor-

How to talk to your doctor to improve your medical care

How to tell your doctor what’s wrong with you.

I invite you to follow this blog as we explore the HEART of health together.

 

Dr. Danielle Ofri’s book  What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear,

details the reasons doctors and patients don’t communicate well

and offers ways to improve our interaction.

What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear by Danielle Ofri, MD
written by Danielle Ofri, M.D.

(this is an affiliate link)