Many of the patients I see have been discarded by the medical establishment. They have been told that their only problem is a Prozac deficiency, that their problems are only in their head, or that they're just crazy. And sometimes they’re told that nothing more can be done for them and are sent on their way.
Needless to say, this isn’t the way it should be. If a patient’s problems are purely psychological, she should've been given appropriate psychological treatment. If her problem was biomedical and the physician was either too lazy or was simply unwilling to deal with it, she should've been appropriately referred. And if her problem was undiagnosable or diagnosed and untreatable, the problem should've been dealt with in a compassionate manner. Simply casting the patient away is never an option.
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Our medical system is indeed broken, but many don’t see the primary aspect of this brokenness: a loss of compassion. We forget that medicine is a calling, not a business. While there are certainly business aspects to medicine, much of the inflated costs of healthcare stem from a lack of compassion.
How so? For one example, consider expensive testing. If we had a strong enough relationship with patients, we might more often be able to put ourselves in their shoes and give advice that would save everyone money. We might be able to explain that that particular test isn’t going to give us value, and that observation and conservative care may well be the best choice.
Until more of us in the medical field start cultivating real compassion for our patients, more of them are going to end up discarded and hopeless. It’s a situation we can turn around—if we try.