Model stories written by young professionals/students.
Family Friendly Zone
A student puts her visits to the family doctor in historical context.
White floors, white coats, white blank walls… Walking into your family doctor’s office you can almost see the sanitation. Everything is slick and bright in an attempt to see every germ that could possibly be there but lately there has been something else infiltrating those white clean walls. What do I see? I see a bunch of pictures of smiling unfamiliar faces. But wait, there is one that looks familiar. If that man was wearing a white coat, he would really look like my doctor. Turns out it is my doctor! Every visit to my family doctor, no matter what examination room I am put in, I see at least one picture of my doctor and his family. Why is this the case? Because contemporary medical culture is trying to force out the vibe that that the doctors and patients actually have a lot in common. The doctors too have families, go on trips, host cookouts, etc. Medicine today is trying its absolute best to gain the trust of its patients; one family picture at a time.
Why is trust important? Trust is essential to the success of the doctor-patient relationship. The patient must trust that the doctor is doing everything they can and that it is in the best interest of the patient. On the other hand, the doctor must trust that the patient is reporting accurate symptoms and that they are being compliant at home with their treatment. Without the trust, some aspect of the road to recovery will fall apart. I believe that a big part of this trust boils down to the patient believing the doctor cares. They have to be able to see that the doctor is not some scary superior intellectual, but that they are a caring individual that honestly wants to help the patient feel better.
Before the twentieth century, this was not an issue. The doctors came from the community so everyone knew who they were and what they did outside of their profession. The patients knew that the doctors were on their level. During “The Golden Age,” even though the credentials and education process became more limiting, the patients were still able to trust their physicians. This was a huge reason why “The Golden Age” was named. With the trust of their patients, the current physicians were able to flourish in their field and advance in technology, drug treatments, and medical tests. Unfortunately, somewhere around the 1960’s this trust began to evaporate. The common idea held by the public was that medicine was turning into a business and all doctors were greedy (Burnham 1475). The doctors’ prestige was no longer as respected.
Unfortunately, this mistrust drove a huge wedge between doctor and patient and both sides felt the effects. Describing this separation, Rothman reports, “By the 1960s the two had moved so far apart that one could have asked a lay audience about the last time they spoke to a physician and had their clothes on, and they would have been unable to remember and occasion. By the same token, if one had asked physicians about their social contacts outside the profession, they would have been hard pressed to come up with examples (127).” Although the quote sounds extreme, this separation did occur and it got in the way of successful healthcare.
As referenced in American Medicine’s Golden Age: What Happened to It?: “the trust of every patient had to be gained in order to overcome the belief that medicine was emphasizing business/quantity rather than service/quality (Burnham 1475).” I believe the trust is gained through the pictures on the wall of the doctor’s office. The pictures allow the doctor to invite the patient into his/her own life. In return, the patient feels more confident in letting the doctor into their life. The pictures help to eliminate how vulnerable the patient can feel when being asked to open everything up to the doctor. Simply hanging up family pictures has the power to shift medical culture back into the positive doctor-patient relationship seen in “The Golden Age.”
I believe the historical roots of having a patient’s trust is extremely important. As a future physical therapist, I want to connect with my patients as a person who cares about them through their journey as opposed to their torturer who just wants to make it more painful. To connect with them, they will need to let me into their lives while I let them into mine. I believe that the key to helping my patients will be having their trust that although what I am prescribing hurts right now, it will be helping them in the long run to reach their goals. It all boils down to trust gained through letting others in.
- Jessica Vogt