In January, 2008, I have visited the office of a notable physician in Dhaka. The doctor sat behind his desk, asking a female patient a series of questions. He interrupted her frequently, wanting to speed up the interview. The patient did not complain. After a few minutes, he performed a short physical exam, sent her off for blood tests and moved on to the next case, never to see her again.
Sometimes, improper doctor-patient communication hinders from reaching the diagnosis. Many doctors in Bangladesh are reluctant to improve the communication which is one of the crucial elements of treatment. Many doctors trained in Bangladesh have become highly respected physicians in my own country (the USA). However, whereas Bangladeshi physicians are skilled at treating disease, many times they give little importance on the good relation to heal patients.
Too often, doctors see sick people as bodies to be fixed. The patient is frequently barred from giving information s/he wanted to tell. But patients are not cars or televisions, which can be fixed with a tune-up. They are living human beings whose humanity must be respected if treatment is to succeed. They are also reluctant to share any information about their condition, and have little authority to decide their own treatment. The result is poor health outcomes for the patients. The woman being examined by her doctor left the office with no answers and no understanding of her condition. As a result, she did not manage her illness well, and suffered many more months unnecessarily.
In the past decades, very similar problems existed in America. Doctors felt they were superior to their patients, and therefore performed treatments without properly consulting them. As in Bangladesh, the result was that some patients were made worse instead of better. In response, a Patient’s Bill of Rights was created.
The American Cancer Association defines the following rights as fundamental to a patient: the right to information about your health condition, to be given emergency treatment when needed, to be able to choose your own doctor, to be shown respect by medical personnel, to make decisions regarding your treatment, and to complain about ill-treatment.
It is time that patients in Bangladesh take control of their healthcare, to demand they be seen not as machines but as people. Similarly, we, as medical personnel, must choose to be more humble and considerate of our patients’ feelings. The result will be better healthcare for all.
Richard Hubbard, a medical student of Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine, USA.
Source: The Daily Star, April 10, 2010