Unfortunately, no one asks doctors for feedback on patients. Patients also ought to know what the doctor thinks of them.
Dr. Naresh Bhat, 59 years, Gastroenterologist, Bangalore
Interviewed by Poorva Dinesh
Why did you decide to speak on doctor-patient relationship?
There is a huge perception problem amongst doctors and patients. We see this every day. Our hospital has a system of feedback, and we see feedback given by patients for doctors. Unfortunately, no one asks the doctors for feedback on the patients. Patients also ought to know what the doctor thinks of them.
Can you elaborate?
For example, my hospital asks me to comment on negative feedback given by patients. They never show the positive feedbacks. Negative feedback such as so-and-so patient was upset with you. Its quiet normal when up to 10% of patients are unhappy with you. In the whole world, you will always have 10% who won’t like what you do. I don’t see why one should get upset about it.
Initially, I would get upset about it because I am sensitive in nature. Of course, there is a need to introspect and reason out what made the patient upset and whether you can correct yourself. But I realized sometimes the fault is not with you as much as it is with them. So, that is one aspect.
The other thing is just like patients get upset with doctors, doctors also get upset with patients because they are late for appointments, or don’t follow up regularly, or do not get previous papers. I have a patient who was a high court judge. I was upset with him one day but I apologized later. He called it righteous indignation, which I think is a good word to use, because I believe I am right, and I have a right to get upset because the patient is not doing what he is supposed to do. Its more like I am getting upset because I am not able to give my best. I think that’s a perception patients need to understand.
Do you think the nature of patients has changed?
Oh yes! Dramatically…See, the biggest problem is expectations. Patients expect a 100% guaranteed satisfaction. Medicine is still evolving. We are nowhere close to perfection. It doesn’t mean that the doctor is not doing his best. The doctor is doing his best, but sometimes nature is not in his side.
There is no longer any faith in the doctor. There is a huge amount of suspicion and paranoia. Initially we had patients who suspected doctors of wrong motive. But today it has also become other way round. Doctors have started suspecting patients as well. A doctor looks at the patient and wonders if the patient is going to sue him, and the doctor starts practicing defensive medicine. Defensive medicine neither good for me as a doctor nor for the patient. So unless you have faith on either side, which I think is so important, it is bad for both.
An incident that touched your heart and made you feel proud of being a doctor?
There are hundreds…every day as a doctor you do so many things that touch people’s life, so it is a great feeling being a doctor. But I will tell you there was a patient I saw way back in 1986 who was about 17 then, and he came from one of the smaller towns in Karnataka. He had a cancer in his stomach, and I had diagnosed it. The cancer was too advanced so the surgeon didn’t do any surgery, and the surgeon told me to manage it from there on. We discussed and realized the patient had only a couple of months to live. I couldn’t tell him he had only two months to live. What could I do? So I gave him some therapy, which looking back, I know did very little. But this guy actually went on to live for over a year with good quality of life. I think deep down he knew he had cancer though we hadn’t told him in so many words. But he was so grateful for that extra one year. And he used to visit me every month. I don’t know what made him sense it, but the last time he came to see me, he got a silk fabric from his town of Ramnagar, and he said to me, “Doctor I want you to get a kurta stitched out of this fabric while I am alive”. After that I have stopped predicting the morbid events. It is God who ultimately decides what your life-span is. We are just players in a game.
Did you get a kurta stitched from the fabric?
Honestly, no. I couldn’t get myself to do it.
What does love mean to you?
Life means faith. Love means you must have the other person’s interest supreme.