The #1 thing patients want from doctors

Ever wonder what patients really want from doctors?

Is it the fancy buildings with marble fountains?

Is it the board certifications and diplomas on the wall?

Is it the expert medical jargon and starched white coats?

Nope. None of the above.

Listen up, docs: Patients just want the real you. Ya know—YOU. The competent and caring you who really listens with compassion. The real you that talks like a real person and answers people with the honest truth in words they understand. The you that treats patients like family.

Does it matter if you’ve got glitter on your eyelids? Or if you come in after hours in sweatpants? Or if your kid tags along with you to work? Actually patients think those things are kinda cool.

So how do I know what patients want? I ask them. And what they want more than anything else is a doctor who is courageous enough to be real.

Doctors don’t seem to know this.

I’ve attended lots of medical meetings and sat around conference tables with physicians trying to figure out how to gain market share, how to get great patient satisfaction scores, how to bring in more revenue.

At one such meeting I sat with 12 physicians and a frazzled secretary frantically taking notes. The docs decided that we should all take a special test so we could become “experts” in diabetes and put our diabetes certificates on the wall to impress patients. As I raised my hand, all eyes turned to me and I shared, “Patients don’t really care how many certificates you have on your walls. What people want is 5 more minutes of your time. They really just want you.”

The room went silent. Blank stares. The secretary even put down her pen. Then the conversation picked up right where they left off in pursuit of their special diabetes certificates.

Meanwhile I had recently opened a clinic designed entirely by patients. I was making more money. And working less. Plus I was in such high demand that I had a waiting list—a really, really long waiting list.

My waiting list quickly exceeded the number of patients in my care. Folks even tried to bribe me to get to the top of my list. I told one gal it would probably take 5 years before I could see her. She said, “No problem. I’m not moving. I want YOU to be my doctor. Put me on the list!”

I have no diplomas on my walls.

No special certificates.

No white coat.

Just jeans,

glitter

and

a

smile.

The magic formula is YOU.

pAM_star_WEB_CROP

Pamela Wible, M.D., is a family physician and pioneer of the ideal medical care movement. Attend her physician retreat and learn how you can have an ideal clinic too. Medical students are welcomed.

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53 comments on “The #1 thing patients want from doctors
  1. Kathy says:

    That, in a nutshell, is the difference between an amazing doctor and just a doctor. Pamela, your authenticity is unparalleled.

  2. Phoebe says:

    This is so, so true. This has also become my experience. Thank you for reminding us and for shifting our perspective. May we all, as caregivers, never forget what is important. Warmest wishes – phoebe

  3. Tricia says:

    Pamela,
    I have been a holistic therapist for years and that is exactly what has made me effective. Clients/patients want time to be heard and someone willing to listen. There is quite a bit of effective things we can do to assist clients and they all start with being authentic.

  4. The number one thing that everyone wants in all aspects of their lives is: to be appreciated and to be understood! Clearly, in order to achieve those goals, physicians must give patients their authenticity and time. In addition, patients need to feel comfortable enough to express their concerns and feelings. When I interviewed my new physician, I told her that I wanted her to be my partner and collaborator…i.e. we will be a team!

  5. Daniel Lang says:

    In medicine of mass production the patient has no chance to know the doctor, and the doctor has no chance to know the patient – stalemate.

  6. Julie Greene says:

    I believe the goal with most “health plans” (these don’t seem to make anyone healthy) is patient satisfaction. The last time I saw a USA doctor, I was asked, “Are you satisfied with the visit?” I was disgusted with the visit. Later, I phoned the doctor’s supervisor and told her just what I thought. She said, “I’m sorry you were dissatisfied.” I then received a “random” survey to fill out. It seemed I ended up with those surveys in my inbox every time I complained. The survey asked me to rate office cleanliness, ease of making appointment, politeness of office staff, and also asked specifically how long I had to wait to be seen. The survey didn’t ask if I had received satisfactory CARE from this doctor. I hadn’t received any care at all, nor did the visit help me become healthier. Looking back, if I were ever in such situation again, not only would I never return, but I wouldn’t pay, either. If I pay an auto mechanic for an oil change, I don’t care how clean his service station is. If the oil ain’t changed, why pay? It saddens me that most auto mechanics actually do work very long hard hours, while corporation-backed doctors “satisfy,” and are far richer. We need a drastic change here.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      These surveys are used by corporate medicine to bully and abuse their disempowered physician workforce.

      • Gina says:

        Doctors are neither “satisfied” nor “far richer” in the current “health care” model, then they were in the past, prior to insurance companies gaining control of medical services. They have been duped into participating in a system that rewards efficiency, based on number of patients seen and bottom line dollars spent. There are some measures of “quality” service provided in terms of medical outcomes, but NO incentive to spend time with the patient, building rapport and developing a healthy collaborative doctor patient relationship. Speak with your vote. Don’t blame the doctors, the puppets in the current system.

  7. Tresha says:

    You’re absolutely right! And I have a physician who practices medicine just like this…no glitter or golden jewels (ha!) but he does wear jeans…I see him as often as I want and we talk about everything. John Furlow, M.D. practices “direct care” in Fayetteville, AR in a small clinic with a single receptionist employee, seeing walk-in patients or by appointment. He charges a modest monthly fee instead of billing an insurance company and for that his patients can see him as many times during the month as they wish. He is intelligent, empathetic, caring, and a fine listener.

  8. Rick Loftus says:

    I completely agree with this. One of my young lady patients in Dan Feancisco posted a Yelp review saying she liked me because “I could tell he really cared about me and wasn’t just another HMO robot.” Authenticity is a virtue that seems elusive to physicians because our culture is seized with the idea that we are not good enough. My mentor Rachel Remen did a workshop with doctors I went to 10 years ago where she had us chant the mantra “I am enough.” Thanks again for this reminder, Pamela.

  9. You planted a seed, Pamela. Maybe it will take root and grow in some MDs. I’m so glad you have your seminars for those who are hearing you… and their patients… and their hearts.

  10. In essence, to be a human being, one who is uniquely YOU.

    The other important need/want is to be open minded, free of propaganda, freely thinking for yourself, secure in your experiences and wisdom to say, “I do not know.”

    “I don’t know” is not I don’t care or there is nothing left to do — on the contrary!!

    “I don’t know” is an awareness of the limits of what man has to offer in terms of discoveries and medicines.

    Blessed with the insights of and the respect for the gifts of natural healing. You the Healer knows what to DO with action! Healers have keys which will unlock the portals to truth, a more complete and restorative healing.

    The Healer’s formula is a very simple but mandatory, leaving out a part of the recipe is not wise. Mother Nature knows when something is missing because She is constantly reminding you of that fact with dis-ease or disharmony. Do not think you can cut her short, She can not be tricked.

    The Holistic Healing Recipe: Daily self-care with a wholesome diet, extra vitamins and Magnesium supplements, exercise, stretching, yoga, heating with pads or hot tubs, Epsom soaking, massage, chiropractic spinal adjustments and most importantly sleep hygiene.

    If you get too far behind or you do not seem to moving towards wellness, then you must seek out the “most profound igniter of natural healing” = needles. I’ve witnessed this healing power which can only be ignited with needles; dry/wet needling, myofascial acupuncture and Travell’s TrP injections and various other Bio/Prolo/Neural hypodermic injections.

  11. Dan Gleason says:

    Certificates? I’ve never actually looked for one and who can read what it says from across the room. One of the biggest gifts you can give a patient is that warm and genuine smile. It’s welcoming and helps remove all artificial barriers. It says you are human and that I’m a person, not patient number xx. And, it says that you like what you are doing and if you like what you are doing, you will be giving your best care to those you are seeing. What better way to start a visit than with a smile, and a smile as you leave is uplifting.

  12. Elias Anaissie says:

    Wonderful piece!
    Making sure the patient is heard and appreciated is critical for many reasons:
    1. It’s the right thing to do
    2. I want to partner with my patients & their caregivers to achieve the best possible on the following outcomes:
    -Clinical outcome (patients get better)
    -Patient &caregiver satisfaction including patient dignity!
    -Resource utilization (lower need for expensive tests & medications including the all too common duplicate tests)
    -Reimbursement for hospitals & docs by Medicare, Medicaid & private insurers.

    Below my article with an RN colleague:
    http://www.jopm.org/evidence/case-studies/2011/06/10/the-cancer-supportive-care-model-a-patient-partnered-paradigm-shift-in-health-care-delivery/
    Keep up the great posts. We all need them in today’s sick healthcare system.
    Elias Anaissie

  13. Angel says:

    Namasté.

    Love.

    🙂

  14. This is such an uplifting article. It took years for me to finally ditch my crummy white coat that pulled on my neck, got caught on the doorknobs, and whose sleeves soaked up whatever randomness I washed off my hands! Gross! Professional? I’d rather be a clean and comfortable professional healer! Today, I’m meeting a patient at the coffee shop; no white coats there! I love my job! Thanks to Pamela!!!! Where would I be without you? Stuck under a white coat, oppressed by those silly surveys, striving to reach those A1C goals so I could be deemed a “diabetes expert.” Now, I will name my patients “diabetes experts” when they reach their goals and live long, happy lives!!

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      SO PROUD OF YOU DR. ZOMNIR!!!!!!!!!! You are a beacon of light for doctors and patients. To quote a song: “The eyes of Texas are upon you!” Anyone in Texas who needs a doctor, call Jennifer Zomnir!! 972-218-0020 (she is near Dallas)

  15. people need to know you care
    before they care about how much you know

    drawings by med students in response to
    draw yourself working as a doctor
    most draw themselves with desk and diploma and no patients in scene

    spmw become doctors for the wrong reason
    the bost fascinates them and them people show up in the body

  16. Donald says:

    When I was in practice, maybe 2 or 3 times I had to put on a white coat
    for the mom to let me see the child. The diplomas etc were in my office
    room for no one to ogle. I agree with you, patients want that extra few minutes of time and of education to understand and to learn what in the bloody hell is happening,
    and what is the plan. I controlled the beeper by scheduling phone calls for
    kids sick and to keep them out of the hospital.

  17. Mary J DeForest says:

    I don’t want an American doctor. They act like old age is contagious and disgusting. I bathe everyday. I have all of my teeth, even after nose/mouth radiation. I’m bi-lingual-literate. I’ve had to translate printed material and write for people with more diplomas than I have.

    They say that old people don’t like to be lectured. What part of that don’t they understand? I was nagged into statin toxicity. It was for cholesterol control. So now I have less tolerance for nagging. Now I have a wonderful Saudi doctor with tattooed eye liner, big diamond earrings, and glitter. She’s not scared to touch me. She checks my throat and lymph glands each time. We actually talk-not lecture, rant, and I don’t call her stupid and curse. The last PCP just about drove me over the edge, didn’t treat my thyroid that was out of range, wouldn’t accept the fact that my oncologists asked me to gain 10 lbs before treatment started, and they are managing my weight and diet. He became enraged that they decided to call him and told him that cancer patients have special needs.

    I’m all for lady doctors that have glitter, diamonds, and tattooed eyeliner that aren’t scared to touch me. A little touch means so much.

  18. Bill Voigt says:

    Pamela,

    Two items struck a cord:
    You suggest patients want to be listened to with compassion
    Patients want more time

    But how to do these two things with the need for speed seems confusing for physicians who are being paid to process quickly and with quality (good clinical outcomes). Compassion and time seem at odds with their incentives.

    But that is not true! Listening with compassion and satisfying the desire for more time takes moments, not even minutes. How long does it take to confirm that a patient is worried?

    Unfortunately, CMO’s tell me a big issue for them is that physicians have never received ideas, training or instruction on interpersonal communication. It is always a clinical discussion.

    Empathy and compassion are part of a clinical evaluation! It should be part of, not an extension of, the interaction. A phrase I hear constantly from physicians as they get instructions on better ways to communicate with patients, staff and peers is: “I never realized how I talk to people.”

    Glitter is not my style …but… I like it on you.

  19. Jeri Zerr says:

    I’m a wife who was berated be a team of cardiologists because as they put it I didn’t understand I was taking my husband home to die. I retorted ggey didn’t understand I was taking him home to live. That was March 2008, he had end stage CHF. It’s almost 7 years since those fateful days, yet he’s still alive and we cured his type 2 diabetes 5 years ago. If we can do it, many more can too. I’m available to be contacted by anyone who wants to learn how we did this to help themselves or others.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Tell this to the RRCs, the FSMB, the insurance companies, the VA and the DHHS. They don’t care in the least. They are kowtowing to politicians, lawyers, MBAs, and hospital CEOs. Stay strong and fight the good fight.

  21. After all the years of sacrifice that humans need to do to become doctors, I think that sometimes they lose touch with relating to their patients. Your article is very refreshing and spot on.

  22. Janet Love says:

    Your article is refreshing. There is a movement underway to return to our origins and traditional healthcare will either shift or be left behind. The only question is how long before there is sufficient consciousness to effect such a change that doctors such as yourself and others I know well will be the norm not the exception. I was sick for 15 years and respectful, considerate, helpful or productive healthcare was elusive. In fact I was treated worse than a leper in bygone days by traditional doctors. This treatment eventually motivated me to figure it out myself. I have a PhD from the University of Medical Ignorance. I earned my degree and overcame my life threatening illness by being motivated that there were answers medicine was ignorant existed. I was right!

    I eventually found a kind doctor who admitted he did not know how to get me well. That was what turned the tide and I thrust myself into my own protocol as I knew I couldn’t do any worse. I made discoveries that the doctor refused at first to believe were true. My full health recovery made those discoveries facts and he eventually grew to accept that someone other than a doctor could make a discovery in medicine. The only problem is because I have no degrees my discoveries will never become accepted. In fact if I were to reveal them I might even be prosecuted as practicing medicine without a license. There is a black hole in healthcare I can only hope one day the data in that black hole will reveal a new world.

    I became an Energy Wellness Expert which just means I have lots of certifications and no licenses. It is not my certifications that draw clients to work with me, it is because I can speak their language. I know from the inside out what is like to be ill, very ill and I know what it is like to discover and recover health. It is a genuine honesty that people are seeking. People resonate with authenticity and empowerment that comes from the Soul. We need doctors, therapist and practitioners working in all fields related to health recovery working on a level playing field collaborating with one another with self responsible patients in order to have a new healthcare paradigm. Self responsibility is the key to overcome disease consciousness.
    Your article provoked a great conversation I love the glitter!

  23. Tim Terrio says:

    While I agree that the new Business Model of medicine is some strange balance of quantity but with quality, I believe all medical professionals need to heed your advice. Now that the entry level requirement to become a physical therapist is a clinical doctorate I fear our profession will lose the empathy in search for ‘evidence based outcomes’ we don’t treat statistics we treat patients!

  24. Pamela

    Right on!

    Humanism is our most important physician trait on a par with competency

    If we lose humanism, we lose our profession.

    Throw away “distancing” EMR unless one can accomplish this technology with being a real Doctor

  25. Cindy Cieplik says:

    Thanks for the post Pamela! I actually read through all of the comments!

    As a former professional nurse, I have tons of experience witnessing the patient/physician relationship in its myriad of forms and outcomes. And as a result, have my own biases that have only been strengthened in my new career as a Lifestyle Coach and Healthy Aging Expert. The Consumer/the Patient must be at the center of any care-giving model. And Consumer competence is growing and emerging as a force to be reckoned with–Hallelujah!!

    The competent consumer chooses where, who and what they want, and uses all providers as ‘consultants’ to assist them in making informed decisions. Those of us who are ready to embrace this reality can cue up to be a ‘part of’ the menu available. Everyone’s roles are changing and that should be celebrated~if for no other reason that an increasingly sick nation (USA) may evolve into a society that honors the individual’s rights and responsibilities to take control of their health. We all (providers and consumers) have a lot of work to do toward that end. So, let’s get busy!

  26. Well said !

    We must indeed value our humanity as physicians and practice quality care with a human touch . This takes time and the inclination to practice what really matters .

    I have aligned my practice with what matters and what works , time to listen , time to do a proper exam, time to treat and educate my patients . This is the winning formula .

    Best to all in transforming the future of healthcare , one patient visit at a time.

  27. Chantal says:

    I have to agree… I’ve only had two doctors, who were confident enough to be themselves AND to break the rules by really caring about me and my family. They stand out as the best physicians I ever had. Interestingly enough, I attended a Board Meeting where one of these two doctors was criticized by the other physicians in the room for not being able to remain emotionally detached from his patients.

    My question is: when did the word “care” get dropped from “healthcare”? Maybe you could write about that in a follow up post. Great article, thank you!

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Care got dropped when less caring (or at least different motives) third parties entered the room and demanded their slice of the economic pie from the patient-physician relationship. Medical students enter med school with the best of intentions. They just want to “help people.” Then all the middlemen enter the room and tell them to follow their algorithms as they extract what they (middlemen) want from the relationship. Keyword = extract (antonym of care).

  28. Well-written and on the money, Dr. Wible: good for you for articulating how many physicians really do feel and want to feel, but don’t recognize those feelings of caring because they are so deeply buried beneath to-do lists, prescribed lifestyles and administrative tasks.

    All my patients also have my cell number, but I rarely get calls, because we have built a different type of specialized nutrition practice outside administrative strictures, and around delivering what people want and need before they do.

    Self-care in physicians is underestimated by physicians, but patients do not underestimate role-modeling: physicians who exercise more discuss exercise more, physicians who eat well discuss eating well, physicians who handle stress constructively engage patients about it. Thrilled you are leading the way.

  29. Thank you for sharing your insight and successes Dr. Wible … I agree wholeheartedly … and I’m definitely not the only one.
    I’m just now reading a book by Dr. Bernard Lown, “The Lost Art of Healing, Practicing Compassion in Medicine.” Although it was written 20 years ago and his experience is totally different than yours, his sage advice is nearly the same…”the most effective way to reach a diagnosis is for a doctor to become fully engaged with the total human presence.”
    And 50 years before him, Dr. Francis Peabody, a physician in Boston said, “The secret of care of the patient is caring for the patient.” I believe that the only way to do that is to be yourself… and be a compassionate listener.

    I sincerely hope that we will reach a tipping point soon in the U.S. and this type of patient care will become more Universal. Perhaps if we all band together and follow your lead Dr. Wible, it will finally tip in the patients favor. When that happens, I believe doctors will benefit just as much, if not more so, than their patients, because I’ve observed that patients tend to go to the doctors who care for them most.

    PS – I just ordered your book and look forward to reading it.

  30. Bottom line I tell physicians who will listen:

    The patients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

    I have not worn a white coat and tie in YEARS. I am not a direct care or concierge doc, but a surgeon. What you stated applies irrespective of payment model.

  31. Lapeyre says:

    In the old time we called that ” medical vocation”. A prayer that always strikes me is the one attributed to Moses Maimonides, the physician jew born in Cordoba, Spain, in the twelfth century. In it she asked God to fill us with love for the art of medicine and for all creatures, that we move away from the thirst for profit and the desire of glory, that gives us strength to serve the poor and the rich, the friend and the enemy, the good and the bad, that we do not distract us, that makes us appreciate the progress of medicine and that patients have confidence in us.

  32. Allen Wilkerson says:

    Wow Dr. Wible, what a great answer and I applaud you for getting back to bottom line, time! 🙂

    May I ask you a quick question? What do you tell your patients that need to lose weight and do you have a program you offer them?

    I’m asking as many doctors as I can to see what’s really working for long term weight loss.

    Thanks,
    Allen

  33. Your human ideas are just what a ,good doctor would order, and just what a patient needs.
    Patients need doctors with courage that just look to do their best and to look out for their patients first. Just for them to be human and treat us the same. Empathy and compassion make for good care.

    The doctor I trusted to most was all of those things… country mouse – book smart- nose in the book kind of guy and easy going . He didn’t try to harm you with the treatment of the month that is spewed in daily pitches to consumers. He took his time and was still a curious mind. I HAD IT ALL until. He abandoned my healthcare and I got wrongly labeled … look at the termination letter i got… mycrownofthorns.org

    I really think he was bullied. I was fired by the CEO of the corp. BLACKED listed and labeled . I can’t even get help in our urgent care and have a list of issues with my illness. I just need reasonable care .

    I have fibermyalgia at the least… mis diagnosed and medicated for Multiple sclerosis…. Made to stop all medication and care abruptly. that’s just the beginning

    My gyn won’t see me because my cholesterol is high. geesh it’s my ovary doc.

    think Autonomic neuropathy…. that is me. I am ignored and black listed….

    PLEASE COME AND CHANGE NYS … my kid was just diagnosed Autonomic neuropathy… she got sick after me…. we mirror symptoms for years now.

    read my story if you want

    thank you for making me feel there is hope. we all are humans on this planet. not everyone is bad or has bad intention. i need a doctor that has guts and the government to leave them alone unless he does something wrong. Corporate to but out of my health care. We don’t need a blanket. Some people can’t tolerate the heat.

    ty – you make me think , want to learn more .

  34. Bodhi Goforth says:

    Oh my, Yes!!! Thank you Pamela for being the wonderful person you are, and sharing your radiant self with the world!
    Love,
    Bodhi 🙂

  35. Rhea Zakich says:

    Hi Pamela,

    I play the Ungame with Seniors every week in a retirement community and what I hear (if not in their words, behind their words) is that everyone wants to matter to someone. They tell stories of who and what they used to be when they mattered to someone. Some have lost many friends and family members and now wonder if they matter to anyone. In the Ungame, we listen, we laugh, and sometimes, cry. We acknowledge and celebrate each other’s importance. I think what they want to experience when they visit their doctor is that they matter.

  36. Amy says:

    I work in this embarrassing fiasco they call medicine now. I watch the Dr’s who see the patients and examine the patients be shot down by doctors that sit behind computer screens for some corporate hierarchy and get paid to say no. I have been saying for years now, bring me back to the black bag, horse and buggy.
    You and your opinions are very refreshing to me as a healthcare professional and the doctors out there that would rather return to excellent doctor patient relations and care. I am thankful to have an opportunity to read your blog and soon your books.

    • Pamela Wible MD says:

      Aw thanks Amy! More and more doctors will be making a switch to the old tried-and-true practices of the past. We didn’t go to med school to be factory workers.

  37. How unusual! I made this comment just the other day in another discussion about “where is the CARE we so desperately need?” The doctor who listens, is kind, thoughtful, and human and doesn’t rush out of the room for the next 15 minute appointment. And the medical schools are not teaching Personal Care 101? I clearly remember several incidents with Interns and Residents following my Bi-lateral Mastectomy! I told one of them to make believe I was his Mother!

  38. Juliya says:

    I don’t care what kind of office my physician has.
    If I have to, I’ll travel anywhere in the world for medical treatment.
    Most importantly, the big word, the deal breaker is that the physician
    LISTENS to me, and works with me as a PARTNER in my health care so
    that MY QUALITY OF LIFE IS NOT COMPROMISED.

    I know every time I walk into a physician’s office to meet with a new doctor,
    the reality is that doctor is trying to ‘profile’ me. That means my education, my race,
    my life history will be scrutinized. And I know very well, that most physicians DO NOT KEEP quiet regarding their patients. They will talk about me in their home, or with their colleagues…if I am different in any way. I grew up in a family of physicians, so I don’t believe that physicians, mere human beings themselves will keep quiet about their daily work, because they don’t.

    I know each and every physician that I meet, I will have to also profile. Where were they trained? Religion? Do their religious beliefs, if different from mine get in the way of my treatment? Will the doctor follow through to give me the best healthcare possible? Will the physician work with whatever physicians I CHOSE to help me with my healthcare? Is the physician capable of understanding that each and every patient is unique and can’t be pigeonholed into their idea of what I should be?

    I grew up in a medical household, and worse, I have unique and chronic genetic conditions. I’ve still traveled the world, and needed healthcare in each and every country I visited. Therefore, I have no ‘ideals’ about physicians being more than people that are there to assist me with my health. I have no great expectations, and I have a lot of education in Biology/Sociology. I just didn’t have the health to do the MD thing. But, I am tired of the ‘power trip’ that I see so many of them on…they are only people, of whom are all different…I only ask that they help me, not harm me. Sadly, often I’ve been harmed as often as helped!!!!

  39. Tracy Jackson says:

    Good morning!
    I am NP from Evanston, IL. When and where is your next phyisican retreat?

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