JASON S. SLAKTER, MD
There is a new show on television called Undercover Boss. The series' premise is that owners or CEOs of companies disguise themselves as temps and have the opportunity to experience what it's like to work for themselves. While only a few episodes have aired, I've thoroughly enjoyed the program and was moved by many of the scenes. As you might expect, the bosses/managers learned just how difficult it was to do some of the “ordinary” tasks involved in the daily operations of their companies. More importantly, they had a chance to experience the remarkable hard work, dedication and personal stories behind the lives of their employees. While the inevitable “bad experience” occurs once in a while with some unfortunate employees, most have been positive experiences and have moved the employers to make adjustments in their management styles, alter corporate policies, and improve their understanding of the workers that allow their companies to be successful.
As small business owners, we face a slightly different problem in understanding. Most of us work in environments where we comprehend what our employees have to do to make our practices successful, working side by side with them every day. But as physicians, we may lack an understanding of patients' experiences in our practices. My biggest fear is that we're shifting from the roles of healer and physician and moving to one of “healthcare provider,” within the context of the overall medical system.
A recent personal experience solidified the importance of the doctor/patient relationship. I visited Dr. Larry Katz, a New York cardiologist who has been my physician for many years. Since it had been over 10 years since my last visit, my appointment was scheduled as a new patient. I arrived and was greeted pleasantly, completed the requisite forms, and sat in the waiting room. I was called for my appointment within five minutes of the scheduled time, and Dr. Katz brought both myself and my wife, who had accompanied me, into his consultation room to refresh his memory on my medical history, as well as to discuss any relevant medical issues, which included not only a medication history and general health status, but a discussion of personal issues and general well-being.
We then proceeded to a thorough physical exam with diagnostic testing. During the procedures, he discussed all of the results as the tests were conducted. At the completion of the exam, when my wife joined me back in the consultation room, he took the time to review all of the results in detail and discuss plans for future medical care. He even took the time to remind me that, given my age (a comment that represented perhaps the only negative part of the visit), I should have a regular flu vaccine, should eat a well-balanced diet, and of course should wear my seat belt when driving. After we left, my wife and I both commented that we felt that he was not only an intelligent and talented physician, but a caring individual who never made us feel rushed and took the time to thoroughly answer all of our questions.
In a way, this was my own adventure as an “undercover doctor,” experiencing life as a patient. For me, the experience was not only extremely positive, but also an affirmation that high-quality medicine can still be delivered in a caring and personal manner, even in this day and age. I only hope that my patients view their encounters with me in a similar fashion.