Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Doctors are human too

Through interactions with my husband, I've gradually come to the realization that many civilians (i.e. non-physicians) don't appreciate that doctors are, in fact, human.

For example, a while ago, we were at our pediatrician, and he had told us he'd get us some information sheet before we left. After a significant amount of time, nobody had returned with the sheet for us. I said, "He probably forgot."

Husband: "No. I'm sure it will be here soon."

Me: "I'm sure he forgot."

Husband: "He didn't forget."

I finally went to check. Guess what? He forgot.

Totally understandable. He's human and humans forget to give out information sheets when they're seeing five patients at once. That's why I was so quick to think he probably forgot.

On another occasion, my husband had some lab test done, and got a call from his doctor in the late afternoon same day about an out of range result, and she asked him to repeat it. He repeated the lab the next day, and then was super upset that she didn't call him again about the result being either normal or abnormal (despite the fact that it would available online the next day).

Husband: "How come she didn't call? That's pretty obnoxious."

Me: "Why would she call you same day about either a normal or unsurprising lab result that you're not going to do anything about right away anyway?"

Husband: "Well, she called yesterday."

Me: "That's because she wanted you to repeat it. And she might have had a break in her schedule."

Husband: "I think she should have called."

Me: "Maybe she's in clinic the whole afternoon with patients. Maybe she doesn't have time to be calling every patient back about non-urgent lab results."

Husband: "Okay, okay..."

I think that as doctors, we have a much better understanding of what's humanly possible for a physician. Non-physicians don't quite seem to understand that.


  1. And now we (once again) understand why gunners go to specialties with minimal to no patient contact.

  2. It's totally understandable that someone would feel anxious about a repeat test after a problematic result the first time. That's not like a regular test; the stakes are higher.

    The doctor's not worried about it because s/he knows. The patient doesn't know, and so worries.

    1. Maybe. Although the test wasn't *that* big a deal. It wasn't like a cancer diagnosis or something. I don't think every abnormal test needs to be called in to the patient immediately.

    2. Having been the Pt. with wonky results, I know the anxiety. I know it's "no big deal" to the medical professionals, but to us ...

  3. I had a similar experience with my parents. My mom had a tumor resected, and then got really mad when it turned out the margins weren't adequate and she had to have a second surgery. I had to explain to them that this was part of the process, and that looking at whether margins were sufficient was just part of the process. In that case maybe the doctor could have explained the process up front in anticipation of the problem (it can't be all that unusual to get insufficient margins). But yeah -- drs are human too.

  4. Whatever it is people can handle it with grace. Many angry patients insult their physicians over trivial issues. People have right to worry, but maybe not be verbally abusive to their providers.

  5. I'm not a physician but I am in the medical field, and I'm often defending physicians to my mother and MIL who are flabbergasted when their respective physicians don't notify them of normal lab results or request a lower MRI when only an upper was done. It's exhausting.

  6. Next up: complaints about patients who don't follow up and call to find out their test results, but just assume they're normal because they didn't get a call from the doctor's office.

    1. I think it's the responsibility of the doctor to let a patient know about an abnormal test result or even a normal one (possibly via a nurse or letter), but if it's not urgent, I just don't think the patient should expect a call same day from the doctor.

    2. Speaking as a physician, I would never complain about that. It's the standard that "no news is good news."

      By the way, I am only posting as Anonymous because I can't get my other profiles to work, so this is Alice.

  7. I do think that some doctors do try to come off as more than human (or I can think of a nurse who acts similarly) but I will agree that's not usually the norm or anything. I think it's helpful to see the human side of doctors and I tend to get along better, as a patient with multiple severe chroni illnesses and a lot of hospital stays, if I have a doctor who isn't afraid to show it. I mean obviously there are some doctors who if they make a mistake (even a really minor one) they won't admit it and others who simply apologize and obviously the ones who apologize help the patient just drop it and move on. Same goes with doctors who express their emotions around their patients, ie being disappointed at a bad diagnosis or bad outcome too versus being completely cold, or caring about QoL. I think it's when doctors sometimes act kind of not human that patients are unforgiving or expect them to be perfect and never forget or whatever. I'm not wording this as eloquently as I mean to, but I think you can understand my point. And in general I guess some comes down to a good doctor/ patient relationship. If your doc is never calling or sending letters with test results and constantly forgetting l bring you info sheets or write out the scripts you need, etc, then that's one thing. If it happens once or twice though that's another. And really, so many people just expect a little too much of medicine and doctors, as in the people who expect doctors to never forget something or always be right are the same ones who tend to think everything is curable and go in demanding a medication to make it all go away and blame the doctor and doctor hop even when the reality is there just is no cure for whatever it is they have. And I have a whole lot of respect for doctors, especially those that specialize in toss frustrating in curable diseases. It's got to be hard and I'm sure every doctor wishes they could make everything in everyone better especially when that seems to be the expectation. I think us non-doctors often need to change our expectations sometimes.

  8. I think the biggest problem is patients not realizing they're not the ONLY patient the doctor has. This manifests in so many ways -- bringing up extra questions/complaints that they didn't tell the scheduler and therefore not enough time is allotted for, expecting immediate notification of results, being really upset when a doctor is late (as if the doc is just sitting around drinking coffee or getting a massage or something), showing up late and still expecting to be seen, etc.

    Jen (peds resident)

  9. I had some lab work done, but the request was on a single-sides poorly photocopied paper. Anyway, I didn't know that I should fast for the test. Actually, who am I kidding, I totally knew. But I didn't care for the test, so I ate half an hour prior to (the test results I cared for didn't require fasting).
    I got a call from my doc's office telling me to come in urgently, while I was on vacation out of the country. They wouldn't tell me the result and the doc wouldn't talk to me on the phone.
    It was an agonizing week, during which I had diagnosed myself with every horrible thing that my bloodwork could have picked up. Even though I had a feeling it was just that one test that I had to fast for.
    So even knowing the process, and even knowing what my bloodwork probably shows, I still totally freaked out.
    So yeah, if they're gonna phone with an abnormal result, it's really frustrating not to know what it is, although I understand why a face to face appointment is necessary.
    As for normal bloodwork - we never phone for that if it's routine. Otherwise we schedule an appt a couple weeks later to discuss what it means that the results are normal or abnormal.