A Case of Mistaken Identity


I receive several letters and notes from specialists every day. Most are dry summaries of patient visits, many provide no helpful information, and some are illegible. Almost all of them are forgettable, but  letter I received a few months ago from a local gastrointestinal (GI) specialist is one to remember.

The note was an angry rant about a mutual patient. In great detail the specialist described the actions of my patient, behavior that so offended the GI doctor that he had thrown him out of his practice. It was clear from the letter the the doctor expected me to agree with him about the unreasonableness of our patient and that his dismissal was warranted.

Except it wasn’t warranted at all.

The patient had undergone a colonoscopy and a few weeks later called the GI doctor’s office asking for results. The physician had his staff tell the patient to come in to have his questions answered. The patient did not see the need to take time off of work and pay a co-pay to be given information that could be easily given over the phone or in a note. He repeated to the staff member his reasoning and his desire to be given his results. The doctor adamantly refused. The doctor’s logic, explained in the letter I received was, “It takes time to give results, and I deserve to be paid for my time!”

While I understand the desire for physicians to be paid for the work they do, this physician’s greed caught me off guard. He absolutely refused to tell the patient his test results! His solution to the impasse was even more amazing. He told the patient to call me so I could give the results to him. (Apparently he was not at all concerned about me gettin paid for my time!)

I opened the patient’s chart and searched for the colonoscopy results. They were perfectly normal. The patient’s question was answerable in only 8 words. “Your colonoscopy was normal. Repeat in 10 years.” Even if the specialist had spoken r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w-l-y, the answer would have taken less than 10 seconds. I tested this theory by picking up the phone and calling the patient myself to tell him the results. It took less than 10 seconds. Unfortunately, listening to him complain about the rudeness and arrogance of the doctor took a lot longer. 

I hung up the phone and thought about the specialist. I wondered how he came to be so disrespectful of patients. I pondered how he could be so blind to his arrogance and how he came to be so selfish and uncaring. It seemed to me that his self-worth and self-esteem were completely wrapped up in being financially successful, so much so that patients had become nothing more than dollar signs. It seemed that being paid for the care he provided was more important than caring. His identity was so connected to money that he could not “give away” even a moment of his time.

The doctor is an extreme example of a problem in society today, the problem of misplaced identity. Too many people measure themselves according to their finances. When we define ourselves according to our finances, when we seek personal worth in material things, we will never have enough and we will never be satisfied. 

I feel sorry for the doctor. I awake each day to the very real possibility of making a difference in the life of someone who is hurting. When we recognize these opportunities to love and serve others and seize them we find a joy money cannot buy. When we find our identity in God and in loving his children, we find peace and contentment.