As the repeal of Obamacare is debated in the halls of Congress and on cable TV, one common theme is: “What will happen to patients?” Questions loom about what might change with coverage, about cost, about whether you’ll still be able to keep your doctor, and if medications will still be covered
But what about doctors? What about how they’re doing?
There are things doctors want to tell their patients, not only about health care reform — but also about their health and more. Here are few things that I, for one, want my patients to know:
1.) I’m worried about health care reform, too. I appreciate the challenges for patients under Obamacare — high premiums, deductibles, and copayments; narrow networks limiting the choice of physician. But I have challenges, too.
I’m a small-business person — and when I’m forced to do more while getting paid less, at some point I can’t stay in business. Rules, regulations, and more hoops to jump through all distract me from my job of taking care of your medical problems.
2.) If you’ll be late or need to cancel your appointment, let me know! I understand your life is busy and complicated. There will always be issues with traffic, family, work conflicts — or maybe you just forgot about your appointment. But my appointment slots are my practice’s lifeblood — and missed appointments mean lost revenue and other patients having to wait longer for their appointments. Many restaurants ask for a credit card, which will be charged if you’re a no-show; same goes for flights and hotel reservations. More doctors are doing this now, too.
3.) You really need to … [fill in the blank]. Telling you that you need to lose weight, stop smoking, stop drinking, or some other bad habit doesn’t mean I’m fat-shaming you or that I am insensitive, sexist, racist, or any other epithet. It’s for your own good. And it’s part of my job. You’ve probably heard these things before in your life, but that doesn’t mean your doctor will just give up on trying to change any of your unhealthy habits.
4.) Think before you call us. Most practices have a designated physician on call, including at night. If your question can wait until morning, then please don’t call the doctor in the middle of the night. Any of us may be on call a week at a time. One middle-of-the-night call that disturbs a good night’s sleep makes the next day more challenging. In my own practice, I might be operating or seeing a bunch of patients the next day. Physicians need their rest, too, to be at their best. This does not mean, of course, that you shouldn’t call if you have a legitimate emergency no matter what time of time or night.
5.) Be polite to my staff. Please don’t take out your frustrations on my staff. If an employee acts inappropriately, tell me. But if I’m running behind schedule or you haven’t met your deductible, that is not an excuse to be rude. They’re doing the best they can in a stressful environment. Persist and you will likely be told that you will be happier seeking care from another practice.
6.) I can’t always run on time. Emergencies, challenging patients, new problems — these are always part of my day and I might get behind. I’m not lazy or inefficient; I’m just working in a world of unpredictability. Someday you might be the emergency patient that puts my schedule behind — but you will be happy for that same day appointment and extra time with me.
7.) Saying “thank you” goes a long way. My staff and I work hard. We want the best results for our patients. When we hit the mark, say thank you. It can be verbal, or a hug, or a plate of homemade cookies. Everyone likes to be appreciated and when it’s acknowledged, we will go out of our way to meet and exceed your expectations.
8.) I’m only human. We have our good days and bad days just like anyone else. We try to always have a smile on our faces, be upbeat and cheerful. But we, too, are affected by life’s challenges — work, family, finances, health, and so on. Don’t be too quick to judge and criticize!
The practice of medicine is unique and wonderful. And challenging, too. I hope this provides a glimpse of what the person in the white coat is thinking.
Brian C Joondeph, M.D., MPS, is a Denver-based physician and writer.