Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Washington DC Metro

Redefining the Doctor-Patient Relationship

Dec 27, 2014 04:11AM
by Linda Lang

A study recently demonstrated that doctors tend to interrupt their patients approximately 12 seconds after the patient has begun to speak. Twelve seconds.

Is this because doctors are distracted or are they just impatient? Frequently, both are true: most physicians feel squeezed for time—squeezed and held accountable for having to see as many as patients as possible, often six to 10 per hour. Doctors feel that they are on a treadmill in the office and often find themselves revisiting their patient load, wondering if, indeed, they had enough information to properly treat each individual. They worry that their diagnosis and prescription were inappropriate; they wonder if in their haste, they made a mistake.

Safety departments in hospitals review and record “physician error” when surgeries fail or patients suffer needlessly. Poison control centers spend more time fielding urgent questions from hospital staff and doctors’ offices than from parents calling from their homes.

The problem: overload. The solution: better focus on the task. Time expands when we are focused. It is possible to experience calmness, knowing that the time we have will be enough. This means time enough to see the entire person, to “read” their bodies, to listen without interrupting and to hear things that may not be explicit.

Research on physician burn-out shows that brief mindfulness meditation training immediately enhances one’s ability to know patients better. Physicians who practice these learned skills are better at problem-solving and building trust with their patients. Better outcome for the patient, less stress for the physician.

Some medical schools are training future physicians to make the most of their relationships with patients, peers and medical support staff. A program developed by Rachel Naomi Remen, a renowned physician, is taught in more than 70 medical schools to improve communication skills and promote self-care. Dr. Remen created The Healer’s Art to teach doctors to slow down, examine themselves and understand how to be the best possible health care provider and advocate for their patients.

At the George Washington University Medical School, medical students and residents are trained in resiliency, physical wellness and self-care through a course in therapeutic yoga; an elective where each individual is their own “case study”. Over the course of their early years of training, young doctors are given opportunities in small groups and individual sessions to maximize their professional development and avoid obstacles to their own well-being. In doing so, they learn to develop relationships with patients that involve the whole person, not merely a set of symptoms and laboratory results.


Global Brief
Health Brief