During more than 30 years of practising medicine, I have always remained humbly conscious of the incredible privilege of having patients present themselves for assistance regarding their medical problem. It has always been my desire to honour their trust.
When confronted with a medical problem, be it back pain or other illness, patients have the choice of visiting a specific doctor or healthcare practitioner. Embedded in the visit and the sharing of a physical, biological or other problem is found a level of trust (and hope) that the issue or condition can be dealt with successfully.
Some patients present themselves with a blind trust, wishing to know as little as possible, hoping for all issues to be resolved quickly and painlessly.
In most instances, however, especially when referred to a specialist whom the patient does not know personally, the initial worry and uncertainties are exacerbated by questions like:
- Will I be treated with courtesy and respect?
- Will answers be forthcoming?
- How severe is the condition?
- Will the disease lead to impairment, disability, or even worse?
- Will I be able to continue to work and support my family?
- Will I be experiencing pain or discomfort?
For a medical practitioner, the unknown patient is as real. Within an allotted period of time, the practitioner needs to come to a conclusion as to the cause of the problem and how to proceed with managing the condition.
During this interaction between patients and doctors, patients find themselves in an unfamiliar environment with multiple uncertainties, doctors are presented with challenges to their knowledge and skill (including people skills) and much needs to happen.
In the ideal situation, the patient would leave knowing what causes their illness, having been informed on an agreed upon way in which the condition may be managed, as well as have a clear understanding of the long-term impact that the patient might expect.
However, often patients leave the consultation feeling less informed than they might have hoped for. Research has shown that the most common reason for this is
- a lack of time in which the doctor may explain what needs to be understood,
- an often complicated medical situation, especially in back pain patients, that is not easy to explain
- to a patient who has no prior medical knowledge of the condition in question.
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