Wednesday, October 28, 2015

An Open Letter to All Doctors Everywhere

Dear Doctors,

I've been in many of your offices in the last few years. My darn autoimmune disease ensured that.

Your specialties are many, as are your locations. I can't even fathom how many miles I've traveled between two continents and multiple US states to find answers about my mysterious symptoms.

You've diagnosed me, often correctly, more often, incorrectly. I've waded through your new patient forms, your HIPAA forms, your "I swear I didn't just come from a pork farm" forms (thank you, Dutch doctors, for that one...) and finance forms (no, I don't require a new CareCredit account, thank you very much).

I've paid your fees, after my insurance covered some them and more often did not. I swear that I've kept some of you in business and many of your kids in college.

Did I mention my dad and sister-in-law share your profession?

While I'm not a doctor myself, I am, at this point, a highly experienced patient and I've got some advice. Not to poke fun or criticize, but to hopefully help you improve your practices, while also inspiring you to think about how we can work together to improve the healthcare system at large.

1. Hire a great receptionist.

I put this tip in the #1 spot for a reason. Your receptionist is the first point of impact your patients have with your practice. She (or he) literally sets the tone for your patient's entire experience. Get a gruff, grumpy, exhausted receptionist and your patients will cringe when they make their appointments. Get a perky, chipper, morning-person type in the same seat and your patients might not look forward to coming to see you (sorry, docs, we come see you when we're sick and we'd rather be healthy, no offense...) and the experience of coming to your office may not seem such a chore.

2. Use technology to your advantage.

Get a website, for crying out loud. It's 2015. Patients want to be able to find you online. You get to tell us all about your practice, your eduction and your overall philosophy. Saving loads of time when we get to your office. I won't see doctors who don't care enough about the work they're doing to put up a basic website. Bonus points if you're in private practice and you take the time to collect patient testimonials. Shows you're listening and that you care.

Have a website? Write some content. Have it edited by a "not-doctor." Spouse, consultant, doesn't matter much, as long as your editor can take all your "doctor-speak" and translate it into something the average 6th-grader can understand. Write about whatever your patients care about. Family practice? Write about how to keep kids healthy during flu season. Podiatrist? Write about how to choose the best shoes for your feet. These posts don't need to be long and once you have them, they can stay on your site. You come across as the expert you are - and let your patients get to know you before they set foot in your office.

Choose the best EHR (electronic health records) system you can realistically afford. It's hard for patients to keep all our health information organized, doubly so for those of us with chronic diseases. Decent systems (and by decent, I really just do mean "average," no need to break the bank - back away from that sales rep!!!) make it easier for both of us to keep track of our health and allow us to have easy access to our information when we need it. Bonus points for patient portals. Make it easy for us to access our own information and we won't need to come in to see you for records and small details.

3. Coordinate with a local health coach.

Don't buy expensive brochures with basic health info, or accept the junk the pharma/ag/associations send out about basic health info. Connect with a member of your community who can provide all the information about healthy habits. Ask that person to provide your patients with a special discount. Better yet, offer use of one of your exam rooms to that coach one afternoon a week, charge patients a set fee and pay the coach an agreed upon hourly rate. Offer to host coaching videos on your website. Get creative. This is a huge benefit for patients and will allow you to become their newest favorite doctor if you do it.

4. Set boundaries.

Don't give out your personal cell phone number. Just don't. It looks all cool and trendy, and I get the appeal for those of you with concierge practices, but honestly, it opens the door to burnout. Answering services are fine. Nobody feels great about seeing doctors all strung out on lack of sleep and hopped up on triple venti 80-shot coffee drinks. Nobody.

5. Write goals.

Why are you doing what you're doing? What are your professional goals? Grow your practice 20% in a year? Write a book? Join the board of a non-profit? Write them down, review them and get after them. Pursuing success in your practice, wherever that might be, not only helps you become a better human being, but helps you become a better doctor as well. When you focus on goals, it teaches you skills that allow you to recognize your patients' goals and help them focus as well. Win-win.

6. Lean in or get out.

Let's just get really real. Really. For real. IF YOU HATE THE MEDICAL PROFESSION, seek professional counseling for six months. Make a choice, at the end of that time, to either lean into the profession (becoming the best doc you can be) or get out. Your training and skills are no longer needed or beneficial if you hate what you do.

Why should you take my advice?

1. Your livelihood depends on it.

Patients are getting smarter. We now realize that we have more choices regarding who we choose to treat us than ever before. Advocacy groups are popping up all over the place that rank doctors based on all the points I make above. Get out in front of that crowd and lead it. Or risk going out of business.

2. You're a decent human being.

I hope. If not, see point #5 above.

3. On some level, you care about healing.

You all are amazing. You have so much capacity and capability to lead people to health and wellness. I know folks might make you feel like you're around just to cease symptoms, or maybe at best make small difference in quality of life, but your profession of choice is so much more than that! You change lives every day. Use those powers for good and you can change lives.

Now. Get out there and do some healing work!

Praying for you.

One Experienced Patient



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