I recently had an appointment for a routine eye exam. I arrived at a sprawling medical complex and weaved through a maze of Jersey barriers that took me through a construction zone. When I finally reached a multi-level parking garage, I spent another 15 minutes finding a parking space on the top level. Upon reaching the ground level again, I stopped to ask directions to the clinic. I was informed that there was a shuttle bus, but that it didn't come for another 20 minutes. Instead, I started walking.
I walked into a wing of a hospital, through a lobby, past a gift shop, and down the next wing. I walked from building to building, and from wing to wing for 20 minutes. I felt like I was walking through an airport terminal, not a medical complex. Upon finally reaching the appropriate building, I passed through a long, narrow hallway with white, concrete walls that reminded me more of a bomb shelter than the entrance to a doctor's office.
After giving my name to the receptionist, I was then surprised when she slapped a hospital ID bracelet on my wrist and told me to have a seat. Once past the LEGO blocks and BRIO train tracks in the children's area, I picked out the rest of the patients by their matching bracelets. Waiting my turn, I wondered if I would be treated as a person rather than a number.
Contrast that with a doctor I saw for the first time several months ago. He was a thoracic surgeon throughout his medical career at one of the country's leading hospitals until he opened his own private practice. When I arrived at his office, I learned that it was located next to his home. I was shown to the examining room – a small, one-room log cabin with a thatch roof. I was not greeted by a receptionist. Nor were my vitals taken by a nurse, but rather by the doctor himself. It was the cleanest, neatest exam room I've ever seen. It had a cot-like bed on one wall, neatly made up. A pot-belly stove stood in the middle of the small room. A small wooden desk and chair stood against the opposite wall with a window view overlooking the gardens. And for patient seating there were a couple of simple, wooden chairs.
There I sat for the next three hours. I wasn't waiting all that time. Rather, the entire time was spent with the doctor. Besides going over my lab results in detail, he also recorded a detailed health history. And it wasn't via your standard health history form religiously passed out to first-time patients. Amazingly, the fee for my 3-hour visit was a mere $150.
After years of searching for answers to my health concerns, I left that doctor's office with more knowledge, understanding, and hope than I'd had in years. Moreover, I left with a plan—a regiment in writing specific to my individual needs. It was so much different than the all-too-familiar parting at a doctor's office: "Well, I don't know why you're feeling poorly since all your lab results are normal. But we'll see you in six months."
In a medical world where the patient is often just a color-coded file in an ocean of paper, it is refreshing to find a doctor so accessible, so knowledgeable, so willing, and so able to not only help his patients but also to educate them.
Sadly, many doctors today have little interest in educating their patients about his or her health issues. The reasons may include the patients' own apathy, inadequate time as dictated by the practice or by health insurance, or perhaps ego. There are too many doctors that don't appreciate an inquisitive, educated patient who may even question the doctors prescribed answer.
Yet I was taught that it is good to ask questions. Learning starts by questioning. From Albert Einstein to a little child, the question mark is perhaps the most powerful punctuation mark in the English language—knowledge is gained when questions are asked.
So the next time you visit the doctor's office, ask some questions. Question why he is prescribing drug, after drug, after drug. Question why he can read your lab results, but not see your symptoms. Question how he can listen, but still not hear you. Question why he can talk to you, but fail to communicate. More importantly, these questions need to be directed inward with a personal effort to read, study, and learn. Instead of a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down, a healthy dose of knowledge is just what the doctor ordered – or at least he should.