Bridging the Doctor Patient Divide

Bridging the Doctor Patient Divide

Patients are becoming increasingly disgruntled in our current healthcare system. Doctors and other healthcare professionals are equally disenfranchised.  Doctors struggle to practice quality medical care while outside forces continually stand in the way. Our days are spent in obtaining prior authorizations for care we believe our patients need. And everywhere, patients sound off that their doctors don’t listen to them or care about them. A wedge has been driven between doctors and patients. And we need to bridge that divide.


The doctor-patient relationship must stand on trust. If there is no trust, the patient is not going to listen to the doctor’s advice. The most important first step of crossing the chasm is to rebuild that trust. Patients need to be able to trust that their doctors are doing their best for their patients and that they care about them. And that care must not be seen as a financial incentive but as a human one. We see patients at their sickest, their weakest, their worst. We must put the humanity back into our medical care. It is not just about curing a disease but about easing very real human suffering, and that may not be a medication but just a listening ear. And patients are not free of blame here either. Patients must be honest with their physicians.


Doctors and patients need to become good listeners. The amount of time we can spend in the exam room seems to be forever dwindling. But, we must make time to open our ears and listen to what are patients are telling us. We may know what the best treatment for that patient is, but we need to know what they want. They may not want the same things that we do and often that is OK.  And patients must start listening to doctors more as well. There are reasons why we recommend certain treatments.  Don’t disregard them because you heard your neighbor say something bad about them. Listen to why we think it is the best treatment and then decide. Both sides of the divide need to become better listeners.


We must place blame where it belongs. So many patients rage at my office staff when their test is denied or the insurance company doesn’t cover a service. My staff works very hard to try to get all tests and medications authorized. They feel like they have lost the World Series when a denial comes back. Then, to get yelled out after that is really not that fair. Step back and consider the cause before casting blame.  Call the insurance company when they make a decision you do not like. They are the only ones that can change it. And doctors need to do the same. If a patient comes late for their appointments, don’t just get mad. Find out why. Maybe that patient has a demon boss and they fear losing their jobs by leaving early. Or maybe they have a hard time finding a sitter for their baby. Be understanding and don’t blame the patient for things outside their control.


Not only do we need to listen more but we need to discuss more. Patients sometimes come back from the specialist telling me they didn’t understand what was said. I asked them if they told this to the specialist and the answer is most likely no. Some patients don’t want to bother the doctor with their questions. I would rather be “bothered” with too many questions than a patient go home not having a clear picture of their health status. Patients need to express themselves more and not just hold it inside until it bursts out one day like an erupting volcano. It is acceptable to be frustrated with the system.  But, nothing can be done about this frustration if it is not expressed. Maybe doctors and patients can start working together on appealing denied claims rather than each stewing in their own discontent. Doctors also need to discuss more. If a patient leaves our office not knowing their disease or the treatment plan, we have failed.

The relationship between doctors and patients is growing more strained and in many places, a division has been torn between. It is imperative that we bridge this divide or clinical outcomes will suffer and discontent will festoon into burnout by all parties. How can we work together to fix this divide?



Dr. Linda Girgis MD, FAAFP, is a family physician in South River, New Jersey. She holds board certification from the American Board of Family Medicine and is affiliated with St. Peter’s University Hospital and Raritan Bay Hospital. Dr. Girgis earned her medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. She completed her internship and residency at Sacred Heart Hospital, through Temple University and she was recognized as intern of the year. Over the course of her practice, Dr. Girgis has continued to earn awards and recognition from her peers and a variety of industry bodies, including: Patients’ Choice Award, 2011-2012, Compassionate Doctor Recognition, 2011-2012. Dr. Girgis’ primary goal as a physician remains ensuring that each of her patients receives the highest available standard of medical care.

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