Wednesday, 20 March 2013

A doctors' charter

We've had our fair share of contact with doctors the past few years. I certainly feel that what with pregnancies and birth and the care of our children once born, we're quids in when it comes to tax, and that's before we've even accessed the education system. It has led me to think however about what makes a good doctor. And it's rarely their actual medical skills. I was comparing two Consultants the other day, and why it was that I think one is brilliant and the other riles me. Then I realised, the latter one never introduced himself - it fell to me to ask him his name before he poked and prodded my child. Nor did he once use my child's name.

So here is my charter for doctors when dealing with child patients and their parents, for GPs and hospital doctors.

1) Names matter. Introduce yourself and ask what you should call the child. My daughter is never called by her full first name, I am not even sure she knows it. If a doctor wants to make her feel comfortable they need to used the diminutive we all use and they will only find this out by asking, not by glancing at her file. Similarly, my name matters. As I have written before, stop calling me mum.

2) Keep things private. Remember that just because a child is a child doesn't mean they don't also have a right to confidentiality and privacy. Don't start talking to me about their medical history in the corridor or waiting room.

3) Explain. It is easy to assume that just because a young child doesn't understand you there is no point explaining things to them. I believe children understand way more than we often give them credit for, and pick up an awful lot from body language and tone.

4) Be honest. Don't say something won't hurt if it will.

5) Keep listening. Just because I'm neurotic doesn't mean some of my concerns aren't justified. You know when you stop listening to me at my sixth point - well how do you know the seventh point isn't going to be the important one?

6) Ask parents what their worries are. I didn't know how to phrase my questions at one appointment, but the doctor finally managed to get it out of me. What specifically was I worried about, she asked. No one had asked me that before. It freed me to say what was on my mind, in the case the impact of radiation on fertility and cancer, and to be reassured.

7) Remember probability is meaningless to a parent. When you say something has a one in a hundred probability, we hear the one, not the hundred.

8) Talk information. There is no point telling us to steer clear of Google or avoid online forums - we won't. Far better to point us in the direction of the best sources of information.

9) Be human. I have one doctor I have seen a few times who always empathises and tells me his sons had something similar, whatever that may be, I have a hunch, based solely on the fact there is a picture in his office of him and a young girl but none of him and young boys, that his sons are made up wholly for empathetic purposes. Nonetheless I am choosing to believe him. It helps, knowing about your doctor's family, and who it is that they care about.

10) Be nice. My absolute favourite doctor always runs late. And she always apologises profusely. Which makes it okay.

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