Time matters in medical treatment.
We know that our doctors' time is valuable. This is clearly demonstrated by the precise, scheduled appointments, office arrangements, long waits in waiting and examining rooms. And we know that doctors work under many time constraints, e.g. paperwork demands, bureaucratic regulations and schedule pressures.
My husband and I are senior citizens, and we estimate that we now spend approximately 20% of our time seeing or waiting to see our doctors. Partly, this is due to multiple age-related health problems that require multiple appointments. But it is also because we accompany each other to our medical appointments -- not only because we have time, but also because this is how we get accurate firsthand information about each other's health situation and help each other to better ask or answer questions or better understand or remember instructions.
Although as older patients we may have more time in our days for care, we have less time in our lives for cure. So I have four treatment changes I would like to propose to our doctors.
First, take the time to review our medical folders before seeing us in the examining room. That way, you will remember who we are and what our history is, so we will not have to take up time in reintroductions or reviews.
Second, take the time to listen to us present a story in our own words and ways instead of asking questions from some general, impersonal checklist. That way, you will learn not only how we feel but also how we feel about how we feel.
Third, take the time to make sure we hear and understand what you tell us; this may require repeating, clarifying, restating, summarizing. That way, we can better cope with hearing problems, memory problems, anxiety problems or medication side-effect problems we may be having.
And finally, take the time for closure by providing expectations and even some reassurances, but only if realistic. That way, you will be treating us older patients as the realists we are.
I realize that initially some of these suggestions may take more time, but I think eventually they will save time. We will be more satisfied and thus more satisfying patients. We will be more understanding because we will ourselves feel understood. And we will feel helped because we will feel we have been heard.
Though we know we cannot always expect curing, we will feel better if we have received your caring.
Lillian Hawthorne is a retired clinical social worker and emeritus faculty member of the School of Social Work at USC. She lives in Leisure Village, a retirement community in Camarillo.