The Illusion of Caring—is That Enough?

I recently stumbled upon a writing exercise completed by a patient who participated in the “Writing is Good Medicine”TM, program, which I created to help patients put words to their experience of living with illness. Participants were encouraged to share their writing with family and healthcare providers in order to open communication about issues and concerns. For one exercise I posed the question, “What do you expect from your doctors?”

A patient, who I will refer to as Diane, wrote, “Some patients seem to have unrealistic expectations but a real need to know that someone cares about them and their problems. In a way they may be asking their doctor to create the illusion that he or she cares. Although this concept has an element of comic relief, the effort and time a doctor spends listening to a patient and creating a sense that the patient has been adequately cared for develops a win-win situation for both doctor and patient. Especially, if the patient believes that he or she has been cared for and the doctor feels fulfilled in that the patient has been helped. The initial thought of creating an illusion becomes an actual act of caring.” 

Diane’s words made me think about basic elements for building a meaningful doctor-patient relationship. She seems to be implying that the act of listening can create an illusion of caring, which may be enough for her. Yet, Diane’s view overlooks aspects of a doctor-patient relationship that may be important to others. Of course, satisfaction or disappointment with care would depend on your expectations. Is the act of listening enough? If not, what do you expect from your doctor?

One Comment

  1. Mary andersen

    Another factor would be honesty. Express doubt where uncertainty lies; express facts and conclusions as they are known. Listening with compassion presupposes this.

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