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    Here’s how physicians can combat patient gripes


    Sadly, our patients rarely have that ability to soak up information and process it. And of course, fear kicks in and paralyzes the rational brain, quickly. So, some of the things we never studied in medical school, but hopefully have picked up in the real world, come to the fore. Such as, speaking simply (not in Medicalese), looking the patient in the eye (not at our computer screen) and making sure there is real comprehension, and most of all…patience.


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    Put things in writing, to be taken away for later reference, because nine-tenths of what we say will disappear like farts in a windstorm when the patient walks out our office door. Schedule follow-up visits, and allow them to ask any questions they may come up with before they leave the office. My one clinical pearl, passed on to me by my dear departed dad, is that the last thing the patient says, however hesitant, may be the most important element of the entire conversation. Howard Patt’s shining example: “By the way Doc…is it normal for me pee carbonated?” (This was back in World War II, and the patient had developed a post-operative fistula between the bowel and bladder. Whoops!)

    (9) Acting uninformed when it comes to insurance

    Well, it isn’t acting, folks. We do this all day long, and barely comprehend how insurance works. Why should the patient? The explanations given out by the insurance companies are deliberately dense and incomprehensible, and like it or not, our job as caregivers is to help. My office managers are much better than I am at explaining the ins and outs of private insurance, but I do truly feel sorry for the patient who has been misled into thinking that their new flimsy insurance card is akin to a Gold MasterCard. It isn’t, trust me.


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    If a complex problem erupts unexpectedly most of the insurance companies, however understaffed, are mandated to provide nurse case managers who can help a patient with a new issue, like adult-onset diabetes or cancer. We do, like the Buddha says, need to practice patience.

    I’ve stopped at nine issues, rather arbitrarily, but could go on and on—experience dictates that half of the perceived “problem” we may have with a patient is due to our own stance, and can be worked on. As doctors, if our efforts to heal and help are met sometimes with success, we are willing to take the credit. Why not assume some of the weight when a difficulty erupts? Maybe an addendum to the Hippocratic Oath is past due.


    Stephen Patt, MD is a semi-retired family medicine physician who lives with his beloved wife Lisa and wonder dog Sally Salt in the wilds of Topanga Canyon. He may be reached at [email protected].

    Stephen Patt, MD
    Stephen Patt, MD is a semi-retired family medicine physician who lives with his beloved wife Lisa and wonder dog Sally Salt in the wilds ...


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    • [email protected]
      Your blog held my interest right to the very end, which is not always an easy thing to do!! A debt of gratitude is in order for the decent blog. It was extremely helpful for me. Continue sharing such thoughts later on too. This was really what I was searching for, and I am happy to come here!
    • UBM User
      Thank you for reasonable and sensible responses to these issues. Too often I see doctors grousing about their patients and refusing to see their role in the problem nor seeing it from the patients' point of view. I suspect a big part of the problem is doctors' getting squeezed between sicker patients (can't afford to come in until the problems get big) and crappier reimbursement. Some of these doctors need a break and should take a vacation and think about why they're in medicine and stop being in practices they hate. They don't have to accept delivering crappy service and being in a crappy job.

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