Improve quality of doctor-patient interaction

Singapore's medical profession is acknowledged as being among the world's best.

To move up another notch, being at the cutting edge of medical technology is not sufficient.

The quality of engagement between doctors and patients must change.

When it comes to medical expertise, doctors obviously know more than the average layperson.

What needs to change is doctors' mindset that they know everything.

This can, and has, led to doctors being arrogant.

More patients should do their own research so as to be able to have informed conversations with their doctors.

Doctors and patients must communicate with each other more effectively.

Many patients do not know what they don't know, and sometimes language fluency, or the lack of it, can get in the way.

Hence, asking the "right" questions can be daunting.

Doctors typically tell patients what they feel is best for them in a "parent-to-child" manner.

Efforts must be made to shift this to an "adult-to-adult" conversation, and to accord patients with the respect to make decisions on their own.

Advice and/or recommendations can be dispensed when requested or when patients are unable to make their own decisions.

I understand that any doctor who wishes to be fully registered here has to recite a Singapore Medical Council Physician's Pledge.

This is the easy part. The challenging part - living it - comes afterwards. Let us face it: Not all doctors are good doctors.

Good doctors will apply their medical expertise with genuine, sincere care and concern, and a huge dose of humanity.

This is something that medical schools cannot teach. It has got to do with personal values, motivation and moral character.

The ideal situation is when doctors are keenly aware that their chosen profession has accorded them with a moral obligation to make a difference to the well-being of their patients.

This mindset will guide them to do the right things and bring them a step closer to being a better doctor.

The "heartware" of our medical profession needs to be upgraded, and both doctors and patients can make that happen.

Paul Heng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2015, with the headline 'Improve quality of doctor-patient interaction'. Print Edition | Subscribe