Fostering Healing and Hope Through the Doctor-Patient Relationship

by Academy of Clinical Excellence on April 6, 2011

The doctor-patient relationship is the foundation from which a physician works to help a patient restore hope and foster healing. Given the immense amount of medical knowledge medical students and residents must absorb and remember during their clinical training, it is easy for our learners to lose sight of the person in need of their care.
In the New York Times article, “18 Stethoscopes, 1 Heart Murmur and Many Missed Connections,” science journalist Madeline Drexler beautifully captures the experience of being a volunteer patient in Harvard’s second-year clinical skills course. She reports how one-by-one, students examined her heart, listening for the distinct click of mitral valve prolapse. She writes, “I didn’t become a full-fledged person until the 10th exam.” What distinguished this student from the others? “He looked me in the eye and shook my hand.” Drexler says it was not until the 18th student that “someone bothered to ask my first name.” She reflects, “How wonderful it felt to finally say my name, to be heard and seen.”
Drexler’s article includes physicians’ clinical pearls, my favorite among them: “At the end of every interview, say to the patient, ‘How has it been for you, being in the hospital?’ How would the simple act of asking this one question impact patient satisfaction and outcomes? I think plenty. As Drexler writes, “As any patient knows, the touchstone of a good doctor is the ability to feel one’s heart.”
Here’s a link to Drexler’s article in the New York Times
Margaret S. Chisolm, MD
Assistant Professor
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
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