Public expects doctors to be superhuman.

By Dr. Noorali Bharwani, Regional Chief of Staff, Palliser Health Region, Medicine Hat, Alberta. Published in the Medicine Hat News, Tuesday, February 16, 1999 Page B3

Doctors are greedy. Doctors’ practices are money driven. Doctors have no time to examine or listen to patients. Doctors push prescriptions. Doctors drive up utilization cost. Doctors drive up drug costs.

These days we hear more about doctors than politicians.

Recent reports about patient dissatisfaction with physician care does not help improve the image. Physicians are easy targets, as they cannot speak out in public without jeopardizing patient confidentiality.

This is a profession which, rightly or wrongly, is expected to bear the most direct responsibility for other people’s quality of life and the nature and timing of their deaths but is unable to defend its action in public.

If a person is not happy with the service he receives from a physician then he has right to complain. But this should be done in a manner which is fair to both sides. Every profession is governed by a code of conduct. Every individual is protected by the bill of rights and the process of natural justice.

The question is -which is the best venue to seek justice? Media? No. The venue should be such that both parties are heard appropriately and their rights protected.

We live in an era where public’s expectations are enormous. These expectations are further heightened by the explosion of knowledge and information on the Internet. In spite of cutback in services in an already underfunded system, physicians and hospitals are expected to perform as if nothing has changed.

Anecdotal episodes of alleged unsatisfactory treatment reported in the media do not prove that all doctors are bad or not caring. Doctors are just like other human beings with their individual styles and quirks. You may like some or you may not. Walk-in clinics are good to tie over a situation until you see your doctor but not a good place for continuity of care.

All the physicians I know are extremely caring and hard working. Thus, they not only drive themselves but also allow themselves to be driven relentlessly. On a daily basis they run a very tight schedule. They are type A personality, living dangerously with one foot in the grave.

Just ask a physician’s spouse and children how they feel about their lifestyle. On July 30, 1997 my daughter (then 7) wrote to me: “Dear Dad, You are the best dad ever. I wish I could spend more time with you. I also wish that you won’t working so much. Love, Alia.”

Doctors are under constant pressure to be superhuman. They are expected to provide service round the clock and be consistent, faultless and precise at all hours of the day or night. Medicine must be the only profession where this is expected. Airplane pilots and long distance truck drivers have to take mandatory breaks to keep their sanity and concentration.

A doctor is not infallible. He practices a very complex science with no fixed boundaries. There is no room for arrogance or one upmanship. The human body and mind is very unpredictable. From time to time, the physician will be challenged by the unusual, the rare, and the unexpected. He will stumble, just like any human being, if he is not totally in control of his thinking at all times.

For parents, there is no greater tragedy than losing one’s own child. Nothing in the world can compensate for that. Loss of a patient to a physician is as tragic. It takes a long time to recover from that experience. Medical schools do not emotionally prepare physicians for such tragedies.

Mediocrity is unacceptable in any profession. Physicians attend regular continuing medical education meetings. They go for courses to upgrade their skills. They are proud of the advances in medical science, but find it difficult to understand when patients complain because their (physicians) efforts are not always effective. At the same time the public fails to understand why a doctor cannot provide quick diagnoses and treatment.

Finally, communication. If there is an open dialogue between a patient and a physician about the expectations and the limitations of modern technology, then the outcome would be a happy one for both sides. Such discussion help prevent systems and individuals from getting complacent, inefficient or obsolete. Both parties should equally and openly be involved to achieve a happy outcome.

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