Heather Hansen

Give Me Brutal Honesty – Communication With Patients

“There was porn in the call room the first night I slept there.”  The call room is the room where doctors sleep, if they have minutes to catch some sleep, when they are on call. When you’re the first female doctor to ever be on the service, apparently you might find porn in that room.

“I told the partners they could keep the porn if they’d let me paint the walls pink.”

Physicians, like lawyers, are mostly men. However, women are breaking the ceiling in both fields, sometimes slowly but always surely. I recently had the honor of giving a keynote to a group of female doctors, and I listened to the doctors speak to one another with interest. One of the things the young women were yearning for was mentors. If there aren’t many women who have gone before you, it can be a challenge to find a mentor.  And once you’ve found a mentor, what do you hope to get from that person? 

The young women I spoke to had answers. They were looking for accessibility, advocacy, and brutal honesty.  I think these are things we’re all looking for when it comes to relationships– in healthcare, and in life–and maybe we can find them in unexpected places.

1-Accessibility: patients want their doctors to be accessible.  When they’re scared or in pain, they want to know they can reach out to their doctors and get a response. Whether it’s an email, a text, a phone call or a visit, accessibility is sometimes enough to put a patient’s mind at ease, and the body often follows. But doctors need patients to be accessible too. Patients need to show up  to their scheduled visits and more than that, they must be present and attentive. Patients need to be willing to be vulnerable, and let the doctor access the parts of the, not only physical but also emotional, that no one else can see.

2-Advocacy: patients want an advocate.  They need help navigating a complex and impersonal healthcare system. A doctor who is wiling to stand up to an insurance company or a specialist to fight for what is right for her patient is a doctor that patient will never forget. In today’s medical world, doctors need patients to be their advocates as well. Medicine is a business, and for a doctor to do well patients need to advocate for them. When a patient writes a good review on line or refers a good doctor to a friend, everyone gets better.

3-Brutal honesty: patients need doctors to be brutally honest. “Smoking will increase your risk of infection.” “You’ve gained too much weight” are some examples.  More importantly– “I don’t know the answers”  I recently read a Healthgrade review where a patient raved about his doctor’s brutal honesty. Every patient is different, and the level of brutality each can handle may differ, but the honesty piece cannot be sacrificed.  Once again, doctors need the same from their patients.  Patients–and that’s every single person reading this blog–tell your providers the truth. Tell them  if you’re drinking, smoking, taking pain meds, or depressed. Your good health depends on it.

When the young female doctors said these are the things they want from their mentors, the more experienced women said they want the same from their mentees. It’s what many of us are looking for, in all of our relationships. Maybe we all need to mentor one other every day, as best we can. Be available, be on my side, be honest. Tell me the truth–and you don’t have to paint it pink. 

Heather Hansen

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