In traditional medical language, patients present themselves with a “chief complaint” which makes doctors sound like they are working in public relations. It also makes our patients sound like a bunch of whiners.
We don’t see our patients that way at all. One of my early role models in family practice was Dr. Danny Shu who looked forward to his work each morning. When he looked at the appointment schedule for the day, he would see the names of people he genuinely liked – old friends he enjoyed catching up with.
I see my patients the same way, and I consider my work to be a privilege: to be entrusted to listen to my patients’ important concerns – to help people I genuinely care about.
Another way medical students are taught to conceptualize patients’ reasons for their visits is the “problem list.” For people with complicated lives – or long spans of time between their medical visits, that list can be long and dreaded by most physicians.
It can seem like a shopping list . . . for a big family. Any smart shopper knows that it’s best to see the list as a whole and to organize your visit to the grocery store. You would waste a lot of time and do a lot more walking, if you only looked at one item at a time, retracing your steps from aisle to aisle until you got to the end of your list.
Imagine someone in the express checkout (6 items or less) buying 6 items, paying the bill and repeating the process in order to get through dozens of purchases.
This happens every day at doctors’ offices. When patients don’t present their complete list up front, their doctors can be unhappily surprised by hidden items brought up after much time has already been spent working through the history, examination and management for one or more other problems.
You can help your doctor to help you by presenting all your concerns when booking your appointment and at the start of each visit. This will ensure that the doctor is better prepared to manage your concerns.
Sometimes there may be insufficient time to completely work through everything on your list. In these cases, you and your physician can work out a time to deal with the rest.
There are times in our lives when we are overwhelmed with our situation or just feel unhappy. I often see patients in these states, and it’s hard for them to know where to begin. They don’t quite know what they want or need.
In these situations, it can be helpful to ask, “What are your goals?” For example, “How would you like to feel? Where would you like to be?”
It’s important to spend some time turning our problems into goals. It can bring hope and a positive perspective to a challenging situation. It can empower us when we have felt helpless.
Visualizing your goals is the first step in a progressive plan towards better health and happiness.