Not long ago, a family member of mine had a short stay in the hospital. His doctor, although not assigned to visit him on his rounds, saw that he had been admitted and insisted on adding him to his schedule. The reason? He had developed a friendship over time with my family member, and as a result, had a great deal of care and concern for him.
But according to Dr. Jerald Winakur, such an action is rare in today’s medical world. In the Washington Post he writes that the rise of technology and bureaucracy in the field of medicine have separated physicians from their patients both relationally and physically. This situation can blind and hinder doctors from picking up on important clues to the problems of their patients.
Winakur also points out another flaw in modern medicine: today’s medical students are aloof and view the practice of medicine as a job, instead of the calling that doctors of the past viewed the profession. He notes:
“My students want to know — in all the tumult of medical care today — how they can appear to patients as if they are ‘connecting’ with them. ‘I think sitting down in the hospital room by the bed — even if it’s just a moment — is important,’ says one. Another remarks, ‘Try to notice something special about them, maybe a book they might be reading or a piece of jewelry they are wearing.’
I suggest examining their patients: listening to hearts and lungs, palpating abdomens, assessing extremities, pulses. This intimacy between a caring doctor and a trusting patient seems a time-honored, engaging and even useful way to cement the doctor-patient relationship. But, for many, this is a bridge too far.”
Has medicine today become too much about process, and not enough about relationships?
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.