By HILARY HATCH, PhD

The growing movement to include the patient voice in medicine through
Motivational Interviewing, patient-reported outcomes, social determinants of health
and shared decision-making

One day in 2011, as a part of my research on ways to improve patient-provider communication about health behaviors, I was shadowing Dr. G., a talented young internist with a cheerleader demeanor. He marched through 12 afternoon patient appointments with confidence and purpose. But when he saw the name of the last patient on his schedule, he turned pale, faced me and said, “I apologize for what you are about to see.”

I must have looked confused. He repeated, “I
apologize for what you are about to see.”

We walked into the exam room. I’m not sure either
one of us knew what to expect. The patient, a white, obese man, was seated,
doubled over. He had a wad of paper towels jammed in his mouth. He threatened
to pull out his own, presumably abscessed, tooth. He refused to see a dentist
because he had no dental coverage, no money and no one to borrow money from. He
said he would use pliers to pull his tooth, but stayed put, rocking in his
seat. At the computer, the young doctor’s white-knuckled hand gripped his
mouse. Click. Click. Click. He searched the patient’s chart aimlessly for help.
Alerts kept popping up about the patient’s missing A1C results. It took two
minutes, but it felt like 20.

Dr. G. left the room and came back a few minutes
later. He gave the patient the name of a dentist who would see him at no cost.
I suspected Dr. G. had called the dentist and said he would pay for the
appointment out of his own pocket. The patient hugged Dr. G. He only wanted
help, and Dr. G. wanted to help. The tension was resolved for the moment.

The visit note looked like nice

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