I’m not a specialist who can crank out a bunch of biopsies or colonoscopies to get that sweet, sweet cash: I’m a simple, primary care physician who only gets paid per patient visit. Because I’m pressured to see as many patients as possible in as little time as possible, I’m often not able to spend as much time with each patient as I would like. Believe me: I wish I had more than eight minutes with a patient to show him I could care less if he lives or dies.
Like my patients, I, too, miss when physicians had personal, one-on-one relationships with everyone they saw. Gone are the days when I had time to build a rapport with a patient so I could break it to him slowly and surely that I had no regard for his pathetic excuse of a life. I used to have entire conversations with my patients about how little I cared about them, and even though I like that I no longer have to let my patients finish their sentences, eight minutes is never enough time for patients to pick up on how little their health or even their actual presence in my office matters to me.
Eight minutes per visit is barely enough time to identify a patient’s “chief complaint” let alone to dismiss it outright and offhand. Only sometimes do I have enough time to show the proper amount of disdain when someone describes the sound that his joint makes when he walks up a flight of stairs. But never do I have the time to reassure a patient who lives in a state of constant pain that I’m actually thinking about my upcoming trip to Greece instead of how to treat his ailment. Sometimes I’m so pressed for time that my only recourse is to bring a medical student in the room so the patient can have two people not care about him at the same time.
The truth is that most of the time I don’t have the answers for my patients, anyway. Seriously, I have a buttload of schooling and I’m expert and everything, but the human body is massively, insanely, practically-inhumanely complex. If I had more time for my patients’ visits and it was more acceptable for a doctor to acknowledge the limits of medicine, I might explain that honestly sometimes we doctors are just as flummoxed as our patients are. But then again, that’s a conversation I might be willing to have if I was willing to care about my patients in the first place. In the meantime, I’ll just keep emailing their prescriptions to them while they’re still in my office – because my time at my computer counts against their eight allotted minutes.
Speaking of which, I hate it when a patient comes in with his own possible diagnosis, or information about his health that he’s researched for himself. Listen, I am the doctor here; let me do the Googling. Sure, I might not be able to find anything that you haven’t already read, but you can always just bring the same complaint back to me at your next appointment, nine months after this one when my office can finally squeeze you in.