When Doctors Have Time to Care

If you’ve visited a doctor recently, it’s likely that you’ve felt unseen and unheard.

Sadly, “healthcare” is often dictated more by corporate requirements and a focus on the Screen Shot 2016-05-15 at 10.48.33 AMbottom line than by creating a healing interaction between doctors and patients.  Doctors are asked to see patients in such short visits that true connection and relationship aren’t given the chance to develop. Patients don’t feel they are cared for. Physicians wonder why the experience of being a doctor is missing the fulfilling interactions they imagined. Over half of our physicians are burned out.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

A kind and thoughtful internal medicine specialist struggled to help her patient with diabetes. At each visit, they reviewed his lab results and discussed a plan to decrease his blood sugars.  Sadly, his blood sugar remained dangerously high. The doctor realized she must be missing something and gently asked her patient what else he wanted to talk about. “Nothing,” he replied. She patiently persisted. “There must be something on your mind that you’d like to talk about, “ she said. After several requests, her patient finally hung his head and told her that his son had killed himself a year ago. The grief and guilt he felt were clearly the reason why he was finding it difficult to take care of himself. This created the opportunity to discuss the real issue, and her patient was able to get the help and support he truly needed.

Interactions like this may take time, but they are the heart and soul of medicine.

I became a general internal medicine specialist in 1985, at the start of the HMO era. My daily schedule was filled with 20-25 patients, each with an array of concerns. As we delved into what might be at the root of their symptoms, they shared important details of their lives – the challenge and stress of raising children as a single, working parent left little time to exercise and eat right; or the childhood abuse they had never told anyone about had left them with chronic pain. I recall one day, when eight patients began to cry as they told their stories. Rushing patients through such a visit is inhumane, uncaring, and deprives them and me, as their doctor, of important information that can lead to healing and better health. Ordering tests or prescribing medicines without understanding the cause of the symptoms misses the point and adds unnecessary costs and risk to healthcare.

We need a healthcare system that cares for our health and doesn’t simply offer medicines or procedures for our symptoms. Doctors must have the time to care for us and we patients must demand that they be given this time. It’s up to all of us to speak up so that, together, we can restore the health of our healthcare system.


About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
This entry was posted in building relationship with patients, physician coach, physician coaching and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to When Doctors Have Time to Care

  1. docgebhard says:

    You nailed it Helane!
    Where did our practice of medicine go?

    • HI Roberta,
      It’s been a gradual progression – worsened by all the technology. What we really need is to bring more of the feminine back into health care – the caring, open, receptive, collaborative aspects of all of us (not just women). Our system depends almost entirely on the masculine in us – the need to analyze and take action, to focus entirely on logic as opposed to intuition. If we could create a better balance of these two forces in our work as physicians and encourage and welcome both orientations, our patients would be better served and we would feel more fulfilled.

  2. drtarte911 says:

    Thank you Dr.Helane madam,

    This Article is really “Eye-opener” for Specialist and family physician..The ‘Interaction’ between Drs & Patients plays important role.. Due Care & spending quality time with patients gives healing touch…

    Prescribing unnecessary medicines, ordering different lab tests and performing unwanted procedures does not restore patient’s health neither improve quality of healthcare system….

    -Dr.Mangesh Tarte, MD,FVIR
    Vascular & Interventional Radiologist



  3. artwsandy says:

    Helane, as a personal trainer for baby boomers and the senior population, I see each of my clients for a one-hour session 1-2 times per week. Besides training them physically, I listen to their lives in full detail. It is through that kind of interaction that I can better assess their needs, thus increasing their adherence to their program. People need to feel heard and their fears addressed rather than dismissed. Doctors (too many) are missing this awareness and critical skill, and their patients are paying the price. It truly saddens me, as so many patients (particularly the elderly) don’t demand better.

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