I felt as if I had been kicked in the chest. My face flushed. We were in the midst of a staff meeting, going over the patient satisfaction surveys as mandated by corporate. I was fresh out of residency, trying to make a good impression…
“She didn’t spend enough time with me and didn’t answer any of my questions.”
The truth was, I knew who wrote it. The surveys are not anonymous…. Not really.
Over the previous month I had spent about 45 minutes with her. Twice. I was only supposed to spend fifteen. Each time, after we had worked our way through her list of 7-8 items, I summarized the plan and asked if there were any questions.
No, she said, she didn’t have any.
After the initial embarrassment wore off, I felt defensive. Angry. I tried to explain the circumstances to everyone in the room. I wanted them all to know it was not my fault…. All of the other docs in the room just nodded their heads in supportive understanding.
This was my introduction into one of the many laws of medicine:
It is always the patients that I spend the most time with who are the ones who feel I have not spent enough time.
A wise friend said recently, “With certain patients I have found that the visit will end the same whether I spend five minutes or an hour so I try to keep it closer to five minutes for those kinds of patients.”
I will admit that I, myself, am terrible at cutting people off.
When patients are upset about how long I spend with them, generally speaking, it is not at all about time. Not really. There is something else going on. A personality conflict perhaps. They don’t want a collaborative relationship with their physician, instead they want to be told what to do. Or maybe they want to tell me what to do. They want a solemn, quiet physician and not someone who laughs and smiles and uses their hands when they talk. Maybe they have unrealistic expectations or a past history of bad experiences with other physicians that has left them with trust issues that I cannot break through.
For many years I struggled with this. I wanted everyone to like me. I am competitive. I wanted perfect scores on everything. In the end, though, I finally realized that I cannot be all things to all people. I pick what I am good at, try to help as many people as I can, accepting that sometimes I won’t be that patient’s favorite person.
All I can do is my best and make sure that patients understand that I care even if I am ultimately not the right doctor for them.