I knew a lady hailing from my village. I am talking about a time around 15 years ago. She used to live alone as her husband was a private job holder, whose life was dragged from pillar to post because of the nature of his job, while her only son, back then, was a student of a residential educational institute. That forlorn lady used to feel a bit under the weather around the year.
Starting from a minor headache, which was an outcome of her tendency to stay awake throughout the night thinking about her husband and son who were away from her, the problem later turned into a serious sickness.
She developed chronic insomnia, migraine and other comorbidities associated with such illness. She consulted several high-profile and renowned doctors, all of whom only prescribed her tons of medicines.
Interestingly, her sickness was the consequence of her inability to stay together with her family and more interestingly, no doctor ever bothered to delve deep into the patient's psychology and put their fingers on what was wrong with her.
The other day my wife went to a consultation centre to see a paediatrician. As we have twins, it's quite difficult for my wife to manage them single-handedly. So, very naturally, we are giving them formula milk along with colostrum to satiate their hunger as it's practically impossible for a mother to breastfeed twin babies all day long at a stretch.
Gas is a usual concomitant of formula milk. When we consulted the doctor, the doctor came down heavily on the nursing mom without taking into cognisance the travails of the mother and other pressures the lactating mother is sucked into.
Instead of prescribing any medicine, the doctor dished out a few suggestions – keep a governess/babysitter or hire a nurse so that you can give more time to the babies, which is not a financially viable option for us.
Now, give it a thought – is it possible for someone belonging to the lowest rungs of the social ladder or hailing from rural subalterns to hire a babysitter? When a doctor provides such a suggestion turning a blind eye to the psychological state of the patient, how effective will his/her treatment be?
When someone gets sick, he/she sees a doctor, while the doctor prescribes medicines after the necessary diagnosis. This is the most common way of treating patients in medical science.
However, I think this practice fails to address the whole picture. From my vantage point, while treating a patient, the mentality or psychology of the patient must be taken into account.
In many cases of complications and sickness, psychology plays an important role and this needs to be properly addressed in the treatment process. For example – when you are treating a baby, it's important that the doctor understands the psychological situation of the parents because the wellness of a baby depends greatly on the wellness of the parents as well.
So, if a paediatrician cannot relate to the parents, then it will be difficult to cure any illness of the baby completely, as the parents will run out of steam.
Similarly, there are many cases when the doctors must understand the history of illness of the patient to treat him/her properly and determine the prognosis.
If the doctor does not spend a few minutes with the patient to know about his/her history, how will he or she be able to cure him? Whether you admit it or not, only medications are not actually enough to cure a patient in many cases.
This psychological connection with the patients is missing in our healthcare system. The doctors are, I think, missing this important piece of the puzzle that needs to be put together with other pieces, such as medication, diagnostic tests and necessary therapy, while treating a patient. Let me put it in a more comprehensible way.
There is an adage that 'don't hide anything from the doctor'. This is important because if you do not open up to the doctor, he or she will not be able to figure out your problem in the truest sense.
The problem is, many of the patients nowadays are eager about opening up, but the irony is that the doctors mostly do not show interest in hearing those woes of the patients.
Rather, they suggest diagnostic tests and prescribe medicines based on the reports only. So, the unheard and unexpressed stories of afflictions (of the patients) go mostly unnoticed.
For solving any crisis or problem, you need to take the associated issues and the surroundings into consideration. Similarly, the doctors need to consider the psychology of the patient because many of our illnesses stem from our mental turmoil.
Dr James Groves, a psychiatry specialist based in Boston with over 50 years of hands-on professional medical experience under his belt, once said, "Emotional reactions to patients cannot simply be wished away, nor is it good medicine to pretend that they do not exist."
So, while treatment is underway, both the doctors and the patients need to understand each other. Recuperation is a journey and there will be many bumps in this road. To weather those, healthy and constructive interactions between the doctor and the person receiving the treatment are imperative and may result in the improved patient-physician relationship, which has the potential to yield better clinical outcomes during the period of convalescence.
This part of the physician-patient relationship is greatly ignored in our country. Our doctors are very professional these days and they don't have time to listen to the patients, which could otherwise have been a game-changer in making a proper diagnosis and determining the course of treatment.
I have personally approached many doctors in many instances and tried to open my heart out to them. Most of them exhibited a stolid response and started getting the advice and medications down in the prescription even before I finished my words. This is a common practice nowadays.
Doctors are the group of people we resort to in times of trouble and plead for a solution with great hopes when we get sick. The doctors need to realise the fact that cross-sections of people count on them, so they should be more empathetic to the patients.
Just a simple gesture of empathy can instil the confidence in the patients that you, as a doctor, really care for the patient and will do whatever is necessary to take the edge off their pain.
Doctors should not behave in a way that will blow the wind off the convalescents' sails. Treating patients without taking notice of their emotional nuances is like flogging a dead horse.
Md Morshedul Alam Mohabat is a philomath who likes to delve deeper into the human psyche to explore the factors that influence it.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.