The First Duty: When Doctors Don’t Listen to Patients

When you go to the doctor, the very first thing that happens is you fill out a form saying what’s wrong with you.  Then you go to an “exam room” where the doctor sees you–and the first thing the doctor does is to ask you what’s wrong with you–why you are there.  Doctors call this the patient’s “history”, and it is the most important part of the process of figuring out what is causing your problems and what can be done about it.

Nobody knows your body like you do, and no doctor can know what you are feeling–pain, disability, stiffness, nausea–without you telling them.  Doctors are trained to use this “history” to select which tests and procedures to use to narrow down a diagnosis, and then to provide you treatment.  Medicine has been following this basic procedure for hundreds of years, and still does–because your doctor simply cannot do his job if he doesn’t pay attention when you tell him about your symptoms.

During that time, of course, medical science has progressed rapidly.  We now have tests and treatments that were unimaginable 100 years ago–and were the stuff of “science fiction” stories fifty years ago.  But none of that–not the fancy MRI machines or gamma ray treatments or miracle drugs–will matter at all if your doctor fails in his first duty:  the duty to listen, and to make an informed decision about what tests and procedures you may need.  Your doctor cannot order tests to see if you are having a heart attack if he doesn’t listen to your complaints of chest pain.  He won’t know to suspect lung cancer if he is too busy to listen when you tell him about your breathing problems.  And a doctor that has to see 25 children a day to make his quota may easily miss the signs of meningitis in a child if he doesn’t spend more than five minutes with the child and her mother.

At Polewski & Associates, our team sees this basic rule of medicine broken too often.  Medicine is too often performed as big business, with doctors spending five minutes with a patient and racing on to the next patient–often seeing 20 or even 30 patients in a single day.  That’s great for profits if you get to charge each patient $200 or more for those five minutes.  It is terrible for the quality of care.  Our clients have suffered terrible injuries, or have lost a family member, because doctors didn’t take the time and effort to listen–and missed heart attacks, dissecting aneurysms, meningitis, cauda equina syndrome, and head injuries.

Putting profits over quality of care is never acceptable and is always medical malpractice.  Your doctor owes his first loyalty and his attention to you, not his accountant or his bank book.

The first duty of any physician is to listen. If your doctor is not listening to you, complain loudly.  And then get another doctor.,

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