Although it was hard for me to share some of the details of my harrowing patient experience, I felt a strong calling to do so after I read @MattBurkeMD‘s article titled “It’s All In Your Head – Medicine’s Silent Epidemic“, which spoke about the growing trend of doctors dismissing their patients who present with unexplained symptoms. Difficult as it was, I spilt it all in “Was it just in my head? (Part 1)“. So if you haven’t had the chance to read it, I suggest that you go ahead and read it first. Trust me, it’ll help you grasp the context of what I’m about to share with you further.
So, now that you’ve heard my real-life patient experience, let me share with you why you (healthcare professionals) should be aware of your thoughts and your words when you encounter patients with unexplained symptoms. Yes, even your thoughts, because your thoughts about these patients not only guide your words but also your actions towards them. Even though you don’t say “It’s just in your head” out loud, your patients can sense it through your behaviours and actions. The way you behave will give you away. Your actions definitely will indeed speak louder than your words.
Even though you don’t say “It’s just in your head” out loud, your patients can sense it through your behaviours and actions.
There are still undiscovered areas in medicine
Let’s face it, there are so many discoveries in medicine yet to be made. We do not know it all. What if that patient with unexplained symptoms you saw in clinic earlier have some sort of a rare genetic disease that nobody has ever encountered before. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of dismissing the patient, you decided to look deeper into it? Imagine what discoveries you could’ve potentially made and how it’ll contribute to the collective medical knowledge. With ever-advancing healthcare technologies, our diagnostic capabilities are increasing exponentially. Your discovery which will help your patient and others is not that distant anymore.
It’ll destroy patient-doctor relationships
I cannot think of any relationship, let alone that of patient-doctor, which is safe from destruction had one party decide to be dismissive or condescending. The key to building trustworthy relationships is to communicate kindly and effectively, and the doctor-patient is no different. I have lost count how many times I decided to either default my appointments or tell my doctors that I was feeling okay when I was not because I found myself unable to trust them after they treated me like I was a fraud. I literally gave the doctors what they want to hear. Please don’t let this happen to you and your patients.
It increases healthcare costs
When one doctor dismissed me and told me “Please don’t come back”, I went searching for other doctors in hope that one of them would be able to figure out what is causing all those disturbing symptoms. I was doing this repetitively as my symptoms worsened and more and more doctors told me that there is no diagnosis and treatment that they can give me. Those multiple trips to the doctors’ offices had cost me a lot and will continue to cost other patients and the government a lot too if we (healthcare professionals) continue to deny them further investigations, diagnosis and treatment that they deserve.
It causes harm to patients
As healthcare professionals, we vowed not to do harm. But what if by being dismissive towards patients with unexplained symptoms, we had unintentionally caused them harm? Imagine how many of those patients have to suffer in silence while they anxiously await doctors to finally make diagnostic discoveries. What about those who eventually walk into bogus practitioners’ office only to be scammed into buying the latest and trendiest mode of treatment because they are so vulnerable. And what if those unsubstantiated treatments cause them severe reactions that they’ll end up being under your care again, albeit in a worse state than they were before.
I hope I have convinced you to change your perceptions, attitudes and behaviours towards patients with unexplained symptoms. We need to treat them respectfully by changing the way we think about them. Avoid the stigma or negative connotations that surround them by being more objective during your encounters with them.
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