One of our first patient interviews was with a woman who had undergone elective surgery to treat macular degeneration in her right eye.
When I first went to [the doctor], I had three pages of questions. And of course, it took a lot of time because I was taking notes as well… He was very haughty, very impatient. It was clear that the questions I was asking were just an intrusion on his time.
Her discomfort led her to seek a second opinion:
[This doctor] answered every one of those questions. At the end of that, I told him that I wanted to use him for the surgery, but I said, “What if I have more questions?” And he said, “You can email me.” And I did, and he answered every one of them personally. I can’t tell you how much that meant. It established such a sense of rapport and trust that it was absolutely wonderful.
What is fascinating about her story is that she did not have a wholly positive experience. Not long after her surgery, the macular hole reopened. Her surgeon, who was on vacation, was unable to address the problem until he returned to the country. And yet, this experience changed her life:
[He] changed me from someone who really had an irrational aversion to doctors, to someone who has become very interested in health matters, a proactive patient. The change in me was so dramatic that my primary care physician commented on it. She just couldn’t believe it. She said, “I wish I could have had that influence over you.”
This physician acknowledged his patient’s physical and emotional needs through his empathy, which in turn led to a more gratifying healthcare experience for her. Emotional needs – trust, compassion, stability, and hope – are not unique to the physician-patient relationship. Rather, the entire healthcare team plays a role in providing an experience of elevated healthcare for patients and their families.
When someone does that for you, you want to give back as much as you can.