Patient care an art, a science, and a two-way street

The relationship between a medical doctor and patient is not an equal one ("To treat or not to treat, that is the question" by Dr Mona Tan; yesterday, and "Put the heart back into medicine" by Ms Ada Chan Siew Foen; Forum Online, Tuesday).

There is asymmetry of knowledge, and patients are dependent on doctors' prognosis for their physical and mental well-being.

Patients are in no position to tell doctors how they practise their trade. But being on the receiving end of the doctor-patient equation, patients do have the right of comment on how much of the emotive "care" they feel they have received from their doctors.

It is difficult to feel cared for if the exchange is dehumanised, with one watching his doctor typing profusely, with few words exchanged and little eye contact.

The atmosphere can be tense and impersonal, and it certainly does not help if the patient is already in physical discomfort and anxious of the final prognosis.

While medicine is a science, the humanistic dimension of dispensing care is an art and it does take practice and experience.

Part of the training of medicine, therefore, should include this essential element of infusing warmth and concern for patients.

As patients, we should also be mindful that judgment calls cannot be exact and accurate all the time. Very much depends on what the patient says, observable symptoms and results from tests.

Some medication may work better for some than others. Doctors may need more time to see the afflicting cause more clearly. Thus, we, as patients, must cooperate to let this process take its course before we can be cured.

The doctor-patient relationship is a personal one. What drives it is trust between a doctor and a patient. We should not govern such relationships by the letter of the law, lest we become highly litigious.

In short, doctors should reach out, perhaps with a smile and a warm greeting, and patients should make efforts to appreciate doctors more, with a simple "thank you".

Lee Teck Chuan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 19, 2015, with the headline 'Patient care an art, a science, and a two-way street'. Print Edition | Subscribe