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Doctors to patients: Talk to us

Bud Spetgang boiled a complicated problem into the simplest explanation: "Most of us grew up thinking that doctors sit at the right hand of God."

The crowd of about 60 mostly older people nodded in agreement. The two doctors leading Thursday's discussion about how to communicate better with physicians also nodded in agreement.

So if both sides agree, why do the problems exist?

Dr. Krishna Ravi, president of the Pasco Medical Society, said the trouble starts before doctors earn their medical degrees. From premedical training on, they are placed on a pedestal.

But communicating with patients requires doctors to come down from that lofty post, and patients have to play a role in that, Ravi suggested at the lively forum, sponsored by the Florida Geriatric Research Program and the St. Petersburg Times' monthly Seniority magazine. Community Aging and Retirement Services Inc. (CARES) served as host to the event.

"It takes a lot of reminding to realize (as a doctor) that you are only as good as your privilege to serve," Ravi said.

Many of the questions and comments addressed by Ravi and Dr. William Hale, founder and medical director of the geriatric research program, indicated frustration with the medical community in general and insensitive, uncommunicative doctors in particular.

Finding a good physician requires more than chance, Hale said. People should shop around, just as they do when buying a new car. Talk to other doctors, nurses, neighbors and friends for their recommendations, he said.

It's also important not to be intimidated by doctors. And it's equally crucial to speak up and not worry about taking up a busy doctor's time or hurting his or her feelings by speaking frankly.

Patients have the right to ask questions and to be answered.

"You have to be willing to say, "Stop, just a minute. I do have this problem and I want to take care of it,' " Hale said.

If that doesn't work, the time has come to tell the doctor exactly what you don't like about his or her style, Ravi said, adding that when a physician is kind and compassionate, a compliment is in order.

Doctors who are told repeatedly that they are rude or insensitive or don't spend enough time with patients will have to stop and think about the criticism, he said.

Too often, patients merely change doctors and never tell their former physician why they have switched.

Joe Ryan, a 66-year-old Port Richey resident, said he probably would just quietly move on to a different doctor. Ryan put it this way: "If I don't trust him when I'm awake, I'm not going to trust him when I'm asleep and he's got a knife in his hand."

Ravi and Hale worked hard to convince the crowd that most doctors will listen and will take time with patients. Ravi said the county medical society is working on a questionnaire for doctors to have patients fill out expressing their opinions about their physicians.

Spetgang, 71, of Port Richey, had another recommendation: "Don't you think a lesson like this (communication discussion) would be good for physicians? You get old, you get crotchety. I'm not talking about the patients, I'm talking about the doctors."

Throughout the 90-minute forum, Josephine Crusie added comments from her seat in the third row. The 73-year-old New Port Richey resident is fed up with the medical profession. A registered nurse who did medical duty during World War II, she finds doctors talk above their patients, using terminology most people don't understand.

Sometimes, the problems stem from a clash in personalities.

"And when that happens, you might as well get another doctor," she said.

Sensitivity and compassion, Crusie said, aren't learned. Those traits come naturally, and some doctors just don't have them.

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