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Goodbye fear and ego, hello better patient care

Written by Salma Aslam · Tuesday 4th March 2014

The best doctors in the world still have bad consultation. Sometimes you just start off on the wrong foot. The patient leaving in a floor of tears is usually an indication that this has just occurred. On one of my medical placements I witnessed one such consultation.

A young woman in the early stages of her pregnancy had a per vaginal bleed and wanted a scan to see if the pregnancy was still ok. Medically speaking, a scan wasn’t indicated as the pregnancy was too early on to detect any changes. The doctors noted the “agenda” as they later remarked, and was not going to “play the game” and send the young woman for a scan. She was not happy about this.

The doctor felt that he couldn’t have done more. Medically there was nothing he could offer to the woman other than advice to go home and wait a little while before repeating a pregnancy test.
To me, there was lots that could have been done. This woman was scared and worried and a sympathetic ear and a tissue would have gone some way to making her feel better. The doctor I was with couldn’t see this. They were blind sighted by the repeated requests for a scan and slightly frustrated that the unhelpfulness of this was not being understood.

When the young woman began to cry I was waiting for the doctor to hand over a tissue. “Any second now...” I thought, but it never happened. I wanted to give the woman a tissue and put my arm around her but that would have meant physically placing myself between the doctor and the patients and interrupting a consultation I wasn’t really a part of.
But the truth is. I was a part of that consultation. I might not have been the doctor in charge but I was another person in that room who could have made that situation easier for that patient and I didn’t.

Hours later, on my way home, I was still thinking about this. I felt I had let that woman down. I could see what she needed and I sat there and did nothing. After the consultation I immediately told the doctor what I thought. I felt that the patient had been let down. They took on what I said and mostly agreed with it. All egos were put aside in that frank conversation and the doctor genuinely reflected on how they could have done better in that situation. It wasn’t about me or the doctor. It was about the patient.

As a medical student it is easy to feel in the way in the hospital environment or in a busy clinic. When the consultant is running behind, it takes a lot to ask the patients something or butt in and add something you think is relevant that in the end may turn out to be a very trivial thing. But at the end of the day, it is worth it if it means that there is a better out come for the patient because when all is said and done they are the ones we are doing this all for. I regret not handing that patient a tissue and it’s a mistake I hope never to repeat again.