What Some Patients Really Think About Their Doctors? How To Make Lemonade Out Of Lemons.

[tweetmeme source=”Healthmessaging” only_single=false]I highly recommend you take a look at “10 dumb things you do at the doc’s office.”  Be sure to scan the article…but what you really need to look at is the “comments”…all 700+ of them.

While by no means a representative sample of how we think about physicians, there is a clear pattern to the comments.  A lot of people feel disrespected by their doctors…and they are pretty angry.

Here’s what patients (including a lot of former patients) had to say.  I attempted to summaries the comments by category and included the top five categories of comments below.

#1 – Being on time is a two way street – patients are expected to be on time for their appointments – why aren’t physicians expected to be on time.   Doctor’s think and act as if their time is more valuable than the patient’s time.

#2 – Listen to what I have to say.  “Doctors should realize that many patients have more life experience and have done more research about a condition and drug and may possibly know more than them. God forbid!”  “If you do not like listening to your patients and getting proper information from them, you are in the wrong business.”

#3 – “Don’t just hear one or two of my complaints.   You try telling the doctor all the problems you have and the doctor stops you mid-way, telling you that he or she will take care of two and to come back again for other issues!”  “What about someone like me who is on disability for a multitude of health problems?  What then?”

#4 – “Treat the patient like a sentient human being instead of a lump of potatoes and you will get intelligent patients.”

#5 – Let the patient ask a few questions ok?   I’d ask more questions if I wasn’t treated like I was a crazy hypochondriac or an idiot every time I did.

Too be sure there were a handful of supportive patient comments…even a few physicians tried to explain themselves…but these folks were quickly shouted down by the mob.

What Does It All Mean For Physicians?  What Can/Should Physicians Do?

Based upon my 20+ years of experience working in health care marketing here’s is what I recommend:

  • Realize that patient satisfaction surveys often do not tell the whole story.  That’s because people who are really dissatisfied will not waste the time telling you.   Rather they will go on to tell 10 other people how bad you are.
  • Evaluate these patient comments in the context of your own practice.  You alone know if any of these comments consistently apply to your practice.   I doubt very much that these patient comments were coming from patients in physician-patient relationships characterized by strong, trusting physician-patient communications.
  • Most of these comments seem to come out of anger at having been disrespected in some way.  I you have patients like this, simply acknowledge that you know this has been a problem in the past, that you are sorry, and will try and do better.  Then really try to improve.
  • Talk to your patients about their experiences in your practice.  Just ask patients how you are doing…and then follow-up with meaningful change.   Don’t ask if you really don’t care.
  • Turn lemons into lemonade.  The fact is that many patients find themselves in sub-optimal physician-patient relationships.   Given the dismal experience everyone is having, why not strive to stand out from the pack by providing an exceptional experience.   It should be relatively easy.

I’ll close with my favorite patient comment:

Doing exactly what your doctor told you to do.  It’s the number 3 killer according to The New England Journal of Medicine and JAMA.”

That’s what I think.  What are your thoughts?

3 responses to “What Some Patients Really Think About Their Doctors? How To Make Lemonade Out Of Lemons.

  1. Carolyn Thomas

    Hello Stephen,

    As I’m reading this article, I happen to have CBC Radio playing in the background (that’s our national broadcast agency in Canada). Coincidentally, the weekly medical show called ‘White Coat, Black Art’ hosted by Dr. Brian Goldman is airing on the topic of one young man named Darcy Fitzpatrick who had a bad experience at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital Emergency Department in St. John’s, Newfoundland. Most people complain to their friends and family. But Darcy, a video editing whiz kid and blogger, decided to use social media to get his point across – and was surprised when he got an immediate response from a senior hospital administrator about his bad experience.

    For example, one of the things Darcy found most distressing was that medical staff would administer drugs to him during his treatment without even mentioning what the drug was, or what it was for. He was moved from one hospital department to another for a number of tests without one single staff person letting him know where he was being taken, or for what purpose. The hospital administrator told him the next day that many of Darcy’s concerns were ones they were already aware of and were taking simple steps to prevent in the future.

    To Darcy’s list I would add one of my own suggestions to medical staff that I came up with during my hospitalization for a heart attack: “Whenever you and your colleagues have a patient lying on a gurney between you, don’t ‘talk over’ that patient about your weekend plans or last night’s game. This makes us feel like a piece of meat on a slab – but worse, an INVISIBLE piece of meat on a slab!”

    According to CBC, “Darcy’s blog protest worked because he stumbled onto a little-promoted truth in health care. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. The other reason why Darcy’s complaint got such a positive response is that he kept his cool and showed respect.”

    Lack of respect – plain old common courtesy – would go a long way in both directions.


  2. I’d like to call particular attention to #3. Limiting a patient to one or two complaints deprives the doctor of the opportunity to diagnose multi-systemic disease. Many autoimmune and rheumatological conditions present with many symptoms in more than one body system. Unfortunately, doctors have been trained to view any patient presenting in this way as a hypochondriac or somaticizer. This thinking needs to change.

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