July 30, 2014

From the Editor

Dr. Allen Weiss, president and CEO of NCH Healthcare Systems, came to Naples as the area’s first rheumatologist in July 1977. Naturally, he wondered how he would be received here. His first patient, he recalls, was Herb Sugden, who had rheumatoid arthritis. "My office wasn’t even set up yet," recalls Dr.Weiss, "but there he was letting me know how comfortable he wanted me to be in my new adventure, and, for goodness sake, trying to pay me even before I had my billing system in place."

The doctor-patient relationship grew from there. "I successfully treated his disease over the years, and we became great friends. His wife, Margaret, a painter, brought in some of her paintings to decorate my walls. Herb was very helpful to my career. And he called my wife, a volunteer fundraiser at the time, with the first million-dollar gift for the theater that would bear his name."

Dr. Weiss told me this story because I had asked him for examples of doctor-patient relationships at their best. We’re pointing you this month to 92 of the best physicians around here (see "Top Doctors," p. 50). Part of what makes them so good is the ability to relate to the people they treat. I asked Dr. Weiss to lay out tips for patients and doctors to make sure this relationship they have will pay off at both ends.

First, Dr. Weiss had one more story about one of his patients, a woman whose arthritis he treated for 30 years. "She is just lovely," he says, "and over the years we really got to know and appreciate each other. We talked about families, and, as I would hang one after another of my daughter’s artworks in my office, she kept track of her career. She’d always bring cookies on her visits—chocolate rum balls, waffle cookies—and we’d schedule her for mid-mornings, when we needed that boost the most. She became a volunteer worker at the hospital, and, for a time, served as head of the volunteers." Now for his tips …

For Patients:

  • Come prepared. This is an open-book test. Write down all your notes and questions.

  • Bring a friend or significant other with you. Studies show that there’s auditory shutdown under pressure, and you might hear only one-third to one-half of what is said.

  • Bring your records and the bottles of pills you’re taking so that you can get the most accurate assessment of your case.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions. It’s your time and your money, and pretending to understand when you don’t just doesn’t make sense.

  • In the end, you should press your physician with three basic questions: What do I have? What can I do about it? What happens to me long-term?

For Doctors:

  • Make eye contact with the patient. Shake hands. Say the patient’s name. You’ll increase the patient’s satisfaction level by 50 percent within the first minute if you attend to these small personal details.

  • Listen more and talk less. There’s a reason why we have two ears and one mouth.

  • Put every patient’s interests ahead of your own, and your practice will flourish. Think from the patient’s point of view. Patients get anxious, and even if they call at night, give comfort. This is a service industry. (But heed Dr. George Carden as well. He took care of Jacqueline Onassis, among others, and he reminds physicians that whenever you can, sit down; and whenever you can, eat.)

  • Wash your hands.

  • Be kind.

So, patients and doctors, understand that you’re in a sacred relationship. Patients are sharing the most intimate physical, emotional and personal details about themselves. Doctors must deal responsibly on their end to process and honor this bonding. May we all live healthily ever after with this.

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