Annoying Patients, Frustrated Doctor

Some people are difficult. They don’t mean to be. They are not intentionally rude, they do not try to be annoying or combative or abrasive, it is just the way they are. Sometimes it is lack of knowledge, sometimes they are just socially awkward. When they come to the office communication is challenging to the point where everyone in the office heaves a collective sigh when their name appears on the schedule.

Visits with these patients are often a struggle for me. I do not delight in rambling questions or in patients who feel the need to give a lengthy explanation of their self-diagnoses made with the assistance of the internet. Debunking their confidently held but ridiculously inaccurate medical opinions tries my patient and consumes an inordinate amount of time. I find my self emotional and cognitively drained by the interactions. It is difficult to remain focused on the medicine instead of the annoyance.

Over the last few years I have worked on a solution to the problem. When the ramblings become unbearable, when I feel the urge to run from the room, I take a breath, mentally pause and do something I never used to do. I pray for the patient.

Silently in my mind I ask God to help me see the patient as He sees them. I ask Him to help me listen, to be patient and to be kind. I ask Him to help me love the patient and meet their needs. I remind myself that I have my own problems and annoying idiosyncrasies and ask God to help me be patient and gracious with theirs.

It works.

The patients are still difficult and the visits still challenging, but I change. I become less concerned with the length of the visit and more concerned with identifying the real needs of the patient, the unspoken needs of which they may not even be aware.

As I have done this I have learned an important lesson. I have no power or ability to change others. I do have the ability to change myself, and that can make a difference.

- Bart