When I shadowed a family medicine physician a while back, we encountered a patient who had made an urgent appointment with regards to a drastic change in her family life. The doctor sat back and let her speak, letting her express herself, while offering input during the appropriate periods of time. Several times throughout her expressed concern, she stopped and apologized for taking up the doctor’s time. And every time the doctor would reassure her that all was well. After the appointment was done, she made a follow-up appointment for after she consulted all the resources offered to her.
When I shadowed a midwife recently, we encountered a client who was having difficulties with her professional life in relation to her pregnancy. The midwife sat back and let her talk about all that had happened, and ask for advice moving forward. Once the appointment was finished, a follow-up appointment was made for when she had finished consulting and finding the resources she needed.
In both cases, the healthcare workers showed incredible compassion, empathy and support for their patients/clients. Somehow, the second scenario stood out to me a lot more. Why was that? I pondered to myself. They were both excellent providers, but what was different about the second scenario?
I realised the difference was in the presence of both a power differential and time constraint. Slowly but surely, we are trying to make the physician-patient relationship more balanced. As we are trying to move forward, during this period of transition, the effects of the past may still be present. It is like a trend that we slip into. The atmosphere of both providers were different: one was more office-like, the other more “homey”. Could this have allowed for something to sink in subconsciously? How can you maintain professional behaviour while trying to make the relationship balanced?
There was also a time constraint associated with the first case. The waiting room was filled with patients, and each only had a fifteen minute appointment slot. The second case? An empty waiting room, and each patient had a thirty minute time slot. Granted, the patient load of each is very different, allowing for these differences, but how does this impact patient care?
Each patient that comes in through the door deserves the same standard of care. And while we know that and try to accomplish that, they, on the other hand, are riddled with guilt and concern. How can we change this? How do the subtleties in our practice affect this? Sometimes doctor’s clinics are filled with patients, distributed through the clinic. Does this create an atmosphere where people feel rushed for time when they speak with their own provider? Or is this moreso based off of the patient/client themselves?
The two situations I described above are probably the most important scenarios I have seen. Both exemplified the skills we were taught in class almost exactly. So what are we to do? How do we address these subtleties? Or maybe these subtleties aren’t even important on the grand scheme of things? Only time will tell.