Despair and Hope in Healthcare
A doctor’s day is quite the balancing act. To begin, let’s look at one issue, one BIG issue – staying on schedule. If a patient has to wait to be seen, the patient will normally become angry and enter the appointment defensively. If they aren’t saying it, then they are probably thinking it… “why is your time considered better than mine?” or “do you even know that I have been waiting here for 2 hours and had to reschedule my son’s piano lesson because of you”. Running late on appointments makes what was already sure to be an emotional meeting about sensitive health issues even more emotional for the patient. But what happens if the doctor becomes so rigid about his schedule that he doesn’t allow for flexibility? Well, on one hand, he or she will adhere to schedule, which is positive. On the other hand, the doctor might have to cut patients off or stay more distant and avoid personal questions to ensure efficiency. The doctor may also have to reduce the number of appointments he or she offers per day, and respond to less emails and phone calls. In short, the doctor must sacrifice bedside manner and accessibility for timeliness.
Then there is the staff and the paper work. Has anyone ever gone to a new doctor and filled out variations of the same questionnaire multiple times (first with the receptionist, then with the physician’s assistant, then with the nurse, or the resident)? There are issues of insurance, issues of pharmaceutical drugs, and the need to stay up to date with medical research and new treatment options. The frustrations are multiplied by the high expectations often held by the patient. More often than not, he or she is looking to be reassured, comforted, and, ultimately, cured. The patient might want to seem more pleasing to the doctor so that the doctor will give him or her better care.
Is is true, then, that nobody wins in our healthcare system? The doctors must live up to unrealistic expectations and are weighed down by a cumbersome system. The patients often have to wade through bureaucratic nightmares in order to get their questions answered. Of course, at the end of the day, the doctors are getting a big paycheck, usually regardless of how committed they are to their patients’ well-being. The patients feel resentful.
When I consider all the problems surrounding healthcare, I am comforted by the knowledge that treatments continue to get better, and diseases continue to be eradicated. Therefore, I am a little like Perowne in McEwan’s novel; progress provides hope. People aren’t perfect, but there is a certain warmth in knowing that maybe someday we will have the cure to cancer. There is a hope also in being able to make a personal connection with your doctor and know that you are not a medical chart in a sea of filing cabinets. However, I still don’t see these sources of light as substantial, or able to cancel out the frustrations of healthcare and the heartbreak of disease. As much as I want to be able to put my faith in the ability of the doctors and in the progress of medicine, I feel that I am asking too much from these people – these doctors and researchers. Why should I hold them responsible for giving me hope in the future?
What do you think? Are you satisfied with your healthcare experience? How do you come to terms with the frustrations of the doctor-patient relationship and the despair of disease?