Encouraging Health and Wellness
When I chose to pursue medicine as a career, I embraced a mission to manage, cure, and prevent illness. While I’m not able to do all of these things with every patient, this mission remains the driving force behind every interaction I have with patients. I try to help my patients understand that healing is an active process, even when I have to tell them to be patient and “just wait” for things to sort themselves out.
Often patients feel the only answer to illness is medication, but there are frequently other options available, like therapy or even the power of simple touch. For example, when patients are diagnosed with anxiety, there are several medications that can help treat it. Sometimes, though, cognitive behavioral therapy is all they need. Moreover, there are many studies that demonstrate the power of touch to reassure and even heal. It’s amazing what a simple hug can do. We see it all the time between parents and children. It can calm a tantrum, help to resolve an argument between siblings, and even make a fall less traumatic.
As adults, we sometimes need the same. When a patient cries, it isn’t always due to pain; sometimes it’s due to fear or frustration, and sometimes it’s because a patient is simply at the end of his or her rope. In those circumstances, a hug or a touch on the hand can do wonders. Sometimes a patient may want someone to just listen–to hear about her fear, her frustration, or what her experience of illness feels like. My job as a physician isn’t to judge but to create a safe space for my patients to express to me whatever they need to express. To create a place where patients can be themselves, put aside the mask they may have created for the world, and allow themselves to be honest about what’s transpiring in their minds and their bodies. It may take time for them to trust me, but if they allow themselves to take part in the visit fully and to be honest about their concerns, we can develop a strong doctor-patient partnership and achieve the best outcomes for them.
Many of us associate the question, “How may I help you?” with fast food restaurants, but it’s a question that physicians ask as well. Our goal is to assist. How can we help patients improve their health and become better versions of themselves? Just exactly what constitutes “health” isn’t static or the same for everyone. Ensuring a healthy life for a 90-year-old may simply involve ensuring she has the ability to live safely and comfortably in her own home using the resources available to her. For a 45-year-old, it may involve helping him find a way to increase his mileage to prepare for a 10k race. Lifestyles may be different, but we should all strive to set and achieve attainable goals. I stress to patients that their mental health can affect their physical health, so they must work to maintain mental stability and physical strength. While there are plenty of medications designed to treat disease, I try not to use them as first-line therapy, if possible. I aim to prescribe medication only when absolutely necessary. I encourage patients to develop strategies to deal with stress and other potential causes of illness.
I approach healthcare like a sports coach. That is, I seek always to encourage patients to strive toward excellence. The coach, whose goals are achievement and growth, choses the best plays and options for the best results. Similarly, I act as a coach in all things medical. I give advice and I monitor progress. The only thing I don’t do to my patients is bench them. The players have to keep playing; they have to keep trying to get healthier. I encourage patients to keep taking their medications, to exercise, to improve their sleep habits, to eat well, to meditate, and to try to avoid unhealthy behaviors such as smoking.
As a physician, I seek always to create a comfortable and safe environment that encourages rather than dictates, one that engenders a genuine doctor-patient relationship that effectively promotes healing and good health for all my patients.