Thursday, December 11, 2014

The value of taking your time with patients

I just saw this article on NPR the other day, and was intrigued:

If Slow Is Good For Food, Why Not Medicine?

Going to the doctor is such an impersonal experience.  You get shuffled from one person to another: Check your weight here, ask you some questions there, and then finally you get to see the doctor.  A few minutes with him or her, you get a prescription, and then you're on your way again.

I know a lot of people for whom this formula never worked.  You get people like my mom, whose anxiety gets ramped up in a major way by all the shuffling around, and then you get people like several friends of mine, who have difficult-to-diagnose complaints.  Most of the time if a doctor can't figure it out within their eight-minute time slot, they dismiss the person as having an anxiety disorder or something similar ("It's all in your head") and move on to their next patient.

With this in mind, the idea of slow medicine is awfully appealing.

One variety geared to geriatrics is exemplified by family doctor and author Dennis McCullough. He argues that in caring for the elderly, we doctors need to slow down and think twice about treatments we might reflexively offer younger folks, like medication for blood pressure, which can cause older patients to faint. Doctors also have to take extra care to avoid sending the frail into a medical-industrial complex that frequently causes unintended harm — think bedsores, falls and hospital-acquired infections.
"We doctors need to slow down and think twice" is a strong statement, but I think that it applies to more than just elderly patients.  My difficult-to-diagnose friends were all in their 20s and 30s when they encountered their problems with the medical industry.

Once upon a time, practicing medicine was about helping people.  Now it's about machine-like efficiency, maximizing profit, and making the most out of a (in my mind) corrupt system of bottom-line health insurance and pharmaceutical companies.

Hopefully one day the medical industry will slow down, open its eyes, and find its humanity again.

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