Patient Engagement

The Empathetic Doctor

It is so heartening to hear about the times when doctors display tremendous empathy and compassion to their patients. Below is one such story from one of our AMS Phoenix Fellows, Marion Briggs, and her experience in a waiting room. This post was originally written as a comment response to our blog post “The Patient Patient.”

While living the US I had occasion to visit an Ophthalmologist and found a waiting room full of anxious people waiting … and waiting … and waiting.

What struck me as different about this waiting experience was that, at 20 minute intervals, the receptionist came out from behind the desk to explain the reason the doctor was late (an emergency surgery following an industrial accident in which a young woman’s eye had been pierced by a hot metal object); and his estimated time of arrival. The receptionist also described what he was doing at each time interval – he has started the surgery … he is almost finished … he is finished (and thinks the young woman’s eyesight will be near normal) … he is on his way … he will be here in five minutes. Each person in the waiting room felt like a part of the heroic journey that was unfolding and we shared in the joy we imagined the doctor and the young woman were feeling after the surgery!

When the doctor arrived, he came right into the waiting room. He said, “I’m SO sorry to have kept you all waiting. I know Janet [the receptionist] told you what the delay was about, but I want you to know that I am going to ask you wait even longer, if you can. I don’t want to compromise your care just to catch up, so I will take exactly as long as I need with each of you. I won’t rush. I have asked Janet to bring some juice and cookies in for you. If you can stay, I promise I will see you today. If you can’t, please enjoy some juice and cookies, and Janet will help you find another appointment within a week. Is that all right? Does anyone have any questions? OK – let’s get started … Mr. Jones, would you come with me please?”

And with that he and Mr. Jones breezed out – and the juice and cookies came in!

Wow! No one in the waiting room left, all of us were seen, and all of us felt not only part of this heroic drama we “witnessed,” but we also felt valued and cared for. There are some terrible, unforgivable aspects of the American healthcare system – we saw those too – but at least this physician and this clinic had the patient in mind as they went about their day – and it felt good.

– Marion Briggs, July, 2014


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