Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Caring Hand

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. But that doesn’t mean one will never fall sick. We all have had our share of visits to the doctor. I used to have a favorite doctor in India (back in the ‘90s and early 2000), Dr U, a Parsi gentleman. He was very calm, always made sure the patient was at ease when he/she would be with him and left feeling better also. It was not just the medicines that he prescribed that helped. He would have a very reassuring touch, when he was feeling your pulse or when he was doing a check-up. It is small things like that, which really help a patient and gives them faith. I had gone to meet Dr U last year when I went to India, not as a patient, but as someone who has a lot of respect for the doctor. He has the right diagnosis most of the times, gives you logical explanations in a way that lay man can understand and comforts the patient.
Cut to 2010. Times have changed. To put it in just one sentence, the medical field has drastically changed. Doctors have to see a specific number of patients to get their dues from the insurance companies. The drill is to go to the doctor’s office, have the nurse note down your vitals and then wait for the doctor to come. If you’re lucky, the doctor will arrive within five minutes. And if you’re not, be ready to wait fifteen to twenty minutes till you see the doctor. And somehow, it always feels like the doctor is in a rush to leave the room and get the patient done with. It seems like it’s more about achieving numbers than seeing a patient. The doctor will come, ask how you’re feeling, and may or may not have a prognosis for you. The whole concept of bedside care is dwindling.
Even in the ER, a doctor will stop by fleetingly to see you and to see if the head nurse has taken the proper and adequate steps to take care of you. It’s at times like that that you want to talk to the doctor, hoping the doctor is patient enough to listen to you! After waiting for hours in the ER, when you are wheeled in, the comfort is not there. That seems to be missing. Times may have changed, but a patient’s needs still remain the same. The patient still looks for reassurance, and the gentle touch. The unsaid words make a big difference, rather than the doctor saying something like, “I don’t know why this happened, or you are doing fine and your reports are normal.”
Dr. Abraham Verghese writes about this topic too and his work at Stanford University emphasizes on bedside medicine. His website,, mentions about ‘The importance of bedside medicine and physical examination in a time in medicine when the use of advanced technology frequently results in the patient in the bed having less attention than the patient data in the computer.” Please try to lay your hands on Dr. Verghese’s ‘Tennis Partner’ and ‘Cutting for Stone’.

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