Connecting with Patients, Humans

I was in a phone consult yesterday, a phenomenon that had taken shape in the Covid era. Many of our patients prefer to “visit” us over phone or over FaceTime or Google or some other platforms. She was a new patient in our practice and this was our first encounter.

My patient on the other side of the line was a healthy 51 year old who needed a preventive or Screening Colonoscopy.

She had never seen me before, and naturally she had some reservation. Colonoscopy is also an invasive procedure and any normal person would have some concern related to any such medical procedure.

After the initial standard greetings and mutual introduction, I went to the part of gathering questions which in medical science or in medical practice craft we call “Family History”. It turns out that she lost both of her parents quite early in her life. As soon she told me this story, it reminded me of my own family history that I lost my mother when she was only 54. My brother, who was youngest of the nine of us was only a teenager at that time.

This memory is something that works on my background all the times, 24/7/365. I have adjusted to it, but I mourn it everyday. Instead of holding it, I decided to share this with my patient, openly and in elaborate details. I told her how I feel everyday from this loss, the melancholy that is always in the background. I shared with her my own pains, pangs, angsts and my own vulnerabilities.

Her anxiety, fear and reservation melted like a piece of icicle held inside the fist melting with the body heat right away. I could feel even over the phone line that she had developed a picture of mine in her own mind. Her guarding was totally gone. We truly saw us, each other as doctor and patient, in our mutual story even before seeing each other physically. We are totally connected at the human level.

From here on, rendering care for her, and earning her trust in my care had no resistance, our flow of human connection was a spontaneous waterfall that had crossed and overcame all the barriers of boulders and mountains.

I have always found storytelling and story listening to be the best tools for a physician in the art of the craft, craft of practicing medicine. Nothing connects us as human being than for a patient to hear our own stories of vulnerabilities, anxieties and emotions. For last several years I have been arguing with my medical school faculties to change the terminology of teaching “History and Physical Exam” to “Story and Physical Exam”.

History is something objective after multiple source verification and verifying with, counseling with many experts. In doctor patient interaction, we are interested in personal perspective, a very personal story, not a history. We are not looking for dissertation of a pundit, which is history, we are looking for a details coming out of our own patient’s heart and mind. And it is not a one way street, it is a two way street to connect. Story listening works best when we, medical providers are also willing to share our own storytelling.

Words to have meaning and in this day and age, for medical practitioners to serve we need to the level of humanity not in the pedestal of medical jargon.

remote doctor patient consult
Seeing Your Doctor by Story

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