The Doctor Patient Relationship: Love thy Patient (part two)

by Farhana Rahman


This is the second of a two-part article on the doctor patient relationship. Check out part one if you haven't read it.


Can Doctors Help Patients Change Habits? 

The smoker with a 10 a day habit. 

The overweight, overworked father of 3.

The banker who enjoys a few too many drinks.

When it comes to talking to patients, this is how most doctors (including myself) would talk to patients:

“ Mr(s) X, you know that it would be a good idea to stop  _____.  I mean, you probably know this already but doing ______ is associated with risks like _____”

How many times do we doctors use some variation of the above to tell our patients what they should or should not do? 

I’ll be the first to admit I have.  And yet, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve silently noted with frustration that my efforts often seem to fall on deaf ears.  Or that things start off well, only to tail off in no time.


Are We Too Used to Scaring Patients ?

Yet is that surprising?  Everything is based on fear. The script goes something like this, with the doctor explaining things to the patient and the patient often thinking things that they're too scared to say.

Doctor: Well, Mr(s) x you have [insert fearful diagnosis] which unfortunately is associated with risks like ______

Patient: [is she serious?] s

Doctor: So I’d recommend you take this drug called ______

Patient: [mmh isn’t that what Kathy at work had to stop taking because she felt so awful?]

Doctor: You’ll need to take this every day for the rest of your life now, and there are side effects including _____

Patient: [isn’t this supposed to make me better?]. 

Doctor: If you get any side effects, please come back and we can try something else”

And then we wonder why Rory Barker hasn’t picked up his medication in the last 2 months?


Love and the Doctor Patient Conversation



Yet, if we come from a place of positivity, love and trust – as would be the case for anything – we are far more likely to help encourage meaningful change.  And yes, I know it sounds like I’ve swallowed a self help book.

This became abundantly clear when I had the fortune of attending a workshop with Harvard-affiliated, heath coach pioneer Margaret Moore. 

She spoke of the need for compassion, facilitating insight and positive behaviour.  Discovering the values and ideals of a patient and truly understanding what people want in life helps reframe the conversation.

What do you treasure in life?

What don’t you want to miss out

What do you care about the most?

This is how we can make a meaningful connection with our patients. 

Change comes from self-realisation towards a self-directed goal.  Whether that’s stopping smoking to be able to run a marathon, or losing some pounds to fit into a nice dress for an upcoming wedding, we can help people get in touch with what they want and make change on their own terms through love, respect and positivity.