Physicians lose patients all the time. As a physician, I have also suffered from patients’ dissatisfaction and attrition.
There could be many reasons why patients leave their doctors. Some of the main reasons include presumed doctor’s clinical incompetence, gaps in communication between doctors and their patients or just nonspecific mutual dislikes between a patient and a practitioner.
Now, you can add one more reason, stomach rumble, which is a noisy intestine due to fluid or gas. This might seem insignificant to some persons, but it was material enough for me to dump my physician.
It happened two years ago when I sought the services of an ophthalmologist to remove the pterygium in my eyeball. Pterygium is a fibrous growth, which usually comes from the white part of the eyeball, the conjunctiva. It may grow towards the black part of the eye, the cornea. If pterygium is not removed it may form a veil, covering the pupils and the lens of the eye, causing diminished vision.
Making a medical appointment was the fun part. I stopped by the office front desk to register. After a few minutes of document scrutiny and identification, the women behind the desk broke out in laughter. One of them said, ‘doctor, why don’t you stand in front of the mirror and do the surgery yourself?’ It was a needed heartfelt banter. I loosened up and told them that I am a pediatrician with no surgical skills.
Two weeks later, I had my first consultation with the ophthalmologist. He looked professional in his white coat and tie. He was courteous, knowledgeable and allayed my fears about my surgical concerns. He showed on a sheet of paper how he was going to excise the benign growth from my eye.
Everything went on well until he leaned forward to have a closer look at my eyes. The rumbles from his stomach burble were raucous and persistent. Each rumble made my face and body to squirm. The Doctor could have excused himself until his stomach burble abated or he could have continued to apologize with each eruption of stomach gas. He did neither.
I wondered if the Doctor’s stomach gas issue would affect his skills or my surgical experience when he operates on me. I did not wait to find out. I switched to another eye doctor. The new ophthalmologist seemed to have his borborygmoi under control.
Though my stomach gases sometimes do burble when I lean-to examine patients, no patient has complained directly to me. Could that explain the reasons why some of my patients had left?
Since I left my first ophthalmologist, I have tried to work on this particular patient turn- off. I limit my dairy intake. And when a gas bubbles up I make sure to apologize to my patient or excuse myself.
Learning from a selected videotape recording of patient-physician interaction will be invaluable in helping doctors correct some of their clinical bad habits that may turn off patients. Other professionals do that all the time.
Anselm Anyoha MD
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