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What stories do you tell?

We all have stories about what we do for a living.  We tell them all the time- even if we don’t recognize that we are telling stories.  They communicate how we feel about our work. Do your stories convey the impression that you are stressed out, bored, bullied, treated unfairly and in general can’t wait to retire? You realise that this is also your self talk and that ultimately you will magnify these experiences. On the other hand if you started telling stories about experiences that energized you, made you feel valued and creative then you might notice more about your job that seems to resonate with what you want and how you want to feel.

At 9 o’clock one bright morning a 32 year of man had been waiting for an hour in a busy clinic. He was called into the doctor’s office. Covered in tattoos, he was a muscular man whose tanned skin suggested a life outdoors. He wore a high vis vest and heavy steel capped boots.

I’ve had a toothache since three o’clock this morning doctor and I need to get to work

He said rubbing his jaw. His doctor was curious, it was odd that a man who seemed very robust in every other way, was getting ready to go to work would wait for an hour in a busy clinic complaining about toothache that started a few hours ago. But of course that wasn’t the whole story. The doctor watched him rubbing his jaw and the side of his neck.

Where did the pain start?

In my chest doctor, it was like someone was sitting on my chest, I felt a bit nauseous and it seems to have settled in my jaw and the side of my neck. I think it’s going into my shoulder now.

Half an hour later the man was in hospital being treated for a heart attack. His decision to get to a doctor might just have saved his life and his doctor’s curiosity paid of.

Picture by Jonathan Moureau

You can’t fix what you don’t know

Georgia has been waiting to see you for over an hour. She has been ignoring the pain in her side for days. Initially she hoped it would just go away. There is too much else to deal with. Josh her partner lost his job last week. Her mother had a stroke 3 weeks ago. Her dad is barely coping with caring for his disabled wife. The children are going to a new school this year and Emily (9) is having trouble settling into the new class. Meanwhile Georgia was hoping for a promotion at the office. With Josh out of work they need the money and it looks like she might now need to spend her weekends helping dad to manage at home. The pain in her side has got steadily worse and now it’s disturbing her at night. She mentioned it to her friend who forced her to make this appointment. Georgia doesn’t know her doctor well. She just wants this nightmare to end. She imagines this might be a urine infection but surely that wouldn’t last this long? She doesn’t want to think about the other possibilities. She especially doesn’t want to think about the lump she found in her right breast last month. She hasn’t told Josh she was coming to the clinic today and gave a vague impression that she needed to come to this end of town to collect something for work. She doesn’t want Josh to worry even though she thinks he might have noticed her holding her side while making the children’s lunch last night. Please let it be a urine infection so that a course of antibiotics will fix it. Georgia isn’t ready to handle any more bad news. A quick visit and a prescription is all she expects.

In 2 national, nonprobability online surveys of 4510 US adults, most participants reported withholding at least 1 of 7 types of medically relevant information, especially when they disagreed with the clinician’s recommendations or misunderstood the clinician’s instructions. The most commonly reported reasons for not disclosing information included not wanting to be judged or hear how harmful their behavior is. Levy et al

The outcome doctor is up to you but it all hinges on you being able to get the picture. Georgia isn’t sure she is going to tell you any of this even though she desperately needs someone to make it alright. Will you notice? Are you set up to receive the signals?

Picture by Drew Leavy

Do you mind if I don’t take your advice?

Your customers, clients or patients are free to choose. Despite your most earnest desire to save them from themselves they may choose to pass on your advice today. Is that alright? They may decide never to give up on the donuts, to stop smoking or head to the gym. As a consequence they may continue on the way to chronic illness. Do people have responsibilities from the ethics point of view?

Autonomous patients do have duties most of which are left out of mainstream medical ethics. Some of these duties flow from the obligations all persons have to each other; others are the
responsibilities citizens have in a welfare state. More specifically, patients have duties corresponding to those that render doctors captive helpers. Patients have to- morally have to do their best to ensure that they minimise this captivity and enable doctors to be willing helpers. Although doctors remain captive in the face of acute or life-threatening illness, it is not unethical for doctors to free themselves from this captivity in cases that fall short of life or death. Draper and Sorell

Picture by Viv Lynch

Do you advise or dictate?

What do you advise most people who seek your help? What will solve most of their problems? It was interesting to read an article this week suggesting that junk food may be associated with depression. In her commentary Megan Lee notes:

Depression has long been treated with medication and talking therapies – and they’re not going anywhere just yet. But we’re beginning to understand that increasing how much exercise we get and switching to a healthy diet can also play an important role in treating – and even preventing – depression.

For many of the most coveted outcomes in healthcare three things are paramount:

  1. Eat less
  2. Exercise more
  3. Don’t smoke

Simple focus. Not easily translated in practice because selling a healthy lifestyle is tricky:

Interviews with 130 mothers of lower social class provided the basis for studying their views on the desirability of general practitioner intervention in their lifestyle habits; the study used both quantitative (questionnaire) and qualitative (interview) techniques. The majority of women were in favour of counselling on specific topics by the general practitioner but the qualitative data also revealed that most respondents expected the issues to be relevant to their presenting problem. Moreover they were keen to assert their right to accept or reject the advice given. Stott and Pill

Picture by Fit Approach

Steep hill but nice view

On this beautiful earth it is not long before you have to climb a hill to enjoy the view. Where in your job is extra effort required to get to the end of the day? What makes it harder? Could it be the voice in your head telling you that this particular ‘hill’ was specifically designed to make life harder for you? Is it because you were not anticipating any ‘hills’. Are you on the wrong road? Do you need to get fitter? Is hill climbing not for you? Could it be that the view is not worth the effort?

Here’s a perspective from Jonathan Mead

Picture by  Tejvan Pettinger

How do you sneak work home with you?

You might not bring a sheaf of paperwork home, you might turn of your mobile devices and never carry your customer, client or patient home in a bag. But you might covertly bring them home in your cranium.

So you never actually leave work. Those at home notice that you are ‘absent’. Yet you won’t actually achieve anything because the conversations you are having in your head aren’t real. The videos you are watching in your head are imagined. You are already back at the office even as you board that bus or pull out of the carpark. Your performance at work tomorrow will suffer as a result. It could be framed as irresponsible, unsustainable and not conducive to the best results tomorrow. It’s also your choice. Not your employer’s.

As part of creating this new, healthier environment, engage other people to help you. Ask your friends and family members to help you stay away from work. Give them permission to remind you to put your phone away (and don’t get annoyed with them when they do). Find activities you can do with them that prevent you from working and that distract you from work-related thoughts.

Step away from work — and watch disaster not strikeEven if you do create these plans and an environment conducive to seeing them through, you still need to be willing to disconnect from work for a period of time. That can be anxiety-provoking. After all, you might miss an important email; something could go wrong; important work might be done badly or not done at all. Art Markman

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What problem can’t you solve?

Armed with a hammer everything looks like a nail- except it isn’t. We need to be clear what healthcare is for. Doctors cannot ‘cure’:

  • Debt
  • Workplace bullying
  • Violence
  • Illiteracy
  • Homelessness

In addition there are many other problems that may be beyond curative intervention and a few others that require people to make different choices more than the doctor to prescribe something.

The unbridled enthusiasm for guidelines, and the unrealistic expectations about what they will accomplish, frequently betrays inexperience and unfamiliarity with their limitations and potential hazards. Naive consumers of guidelines accept official recommendations on face value, especially when they carry the imprimatur of prominent professional groups or government bodies.

Woolfe et al BMJ

Picture by Bart

What do they know about you?

Whenever someone new visits your shop, cafe or clinic for the first time they make a decision to give you a chance. It’s worth asking what persuaded them to do that. What’s their perspective on your business? Which of your previous patrons do they know? What do they expect? Can you deliver? They are telling you something merely by their presence on site.

Picture by Send me adrift

How does your skill at communicating manifest in your interactions?

It is assumed that doctors have to be specialists in communication. People will tell doctors things they may not confide in anyone else- much less a total stranger. That is part of the equity in the business of doctoring. So if you are a doctor, how does that manifest in your interactions with the people who seek your help? Is it reflected in your greetings? In your body language? In your eye contact? In the way you phrase your questions? In the way you terminate your meetings?

Picture by Paul Moody

Why the data suggests people don’t get the latest medicine

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It sometimes seems ‘obvious’ why things go ‘wrong’ in practice. For example, the proportion of people with diabetes prescribed a cholesterol reducing drug is low…. because? You might have your favorite answer at the ready. Others certainly do and will climb their hobby horse with little or no encouragement. ‘Prescribers don’t accept the guidelines‘, ‘patients don’t take their medicines‘, ‘people can’t afford the drugs‘ or ‘doctors don’t monitor patients‘. The truth may encompass any or all of these.

Let’s do the maths with reference to Glasziou and Haynes.

Let’s assume 80% is true in each of the following points:

1. Doctors are aware of the guidelines.
2. Doctors accept the evidence underlying these guidelines.
3. Doctors remember to apply the guidelines when the relevant patients present.
4. It is possible to do something practical to comply with the guidelines.
5. Doctors act to prescribe the relevant treatment.
6. Doctors and patients agree on the need for that treatment.
7. Patients comply with the treatment.

If these statements are true 80% of the time then 21% of people with the relevant problem will be managed according to the guidelines (0.8x 0.8x 0.8x 0.8x 0.8x 0.8x 0.8= 0.21). Experience tells us that in many, if not most, conditions only 1 in 5 people will be managed as per research evidence.

A quick review of the literature confirms this.

1. Only 17% of patients with diabetes were screened for sexual dysfunction despite it being a common complication of this condition.

2. A primary care study has shown that despite an active education program over two years the proportion of treated patients whose blood pressure was controlled to < 160/90 mm Hg remained at only 33%.

3. When examining the referral origin of all Colorectal cancer patients diagnosed in one study only 24% had been referred on a pathway that was consistent with national guidelines.

A video summary appears here:

 

Picture by algona81