Health Care Literacy - the conversation
When was the last time that you were in the presence of someone who listened? I mean really listened. They looked you in the eye and thought about what you said. They asked you questions. Maybe they even laughed a bit with you. They shared a joke or a personal anecdote from their life that related to the point you were trying to make. It feels great when someone listens to you, doesn't it? By the simple act of listening, this person validated your concerns, made you feel reassured and helped you feel as if you are a vital and integral part of this world. By simply making you a part of the conversation, this person made you feel good.
What I've learned in thirty years of practice is that good medicine is all about the conversation. It's about listening and sharing. It's about empathy. And it's about using the body language that says I'm here to listen
What'd Doc on the television show Gunsmoke have to give to people? Honestly, he didn't have much. But to paraphrase Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting For Stone, Doc gave the only medicine that can be administered by ear; tender words of kindness. Doc may not have extended lives with statin drugs and he may not have been able to treat coronary artery disease with a catheter, but he did something better. He would listen and make people feel good with words.
OK. So you get my point. Health care is about the conversation between a patient and a provider. I think it's fair to say that conversation is part and parcel of making a good diagnosis, educating a patient regarding that diagnosis and clearly laying out a treatment plan. Now think about your last visit to your doctor. What was your impression of the conversation?
As a doctor, you periodically do a little introspective review of your care and wonder what is the value that I'm personally contributing to health care as a whole? For some doctors, their personal value is literally determined by saving lives. For others, it may be an ego-driven outcome such as a high number of surgical procedures or a high personal income. In many cases, saving lives and earning money may not require a conversational skill set. But most of medicine isn't about saving lives. It's about educating patients and addressing their concerns. It's all about the conversation.
I plan to write a series of posts based upon my experiences with the health care conversation. I hope you'll join me in finding a way to restore the value of conversation in health care.
Jeffrey A. Oster, DPM