Letting Go of the Script

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. In response to a recent New England Journal of Medicine Perspectivethe following commentary comes from Adam Bitterman, DO.

The physician-patient relationship is highly regarded and has withstood the test of time. Unfortunately, today it appears to be under significant stress. While it is still possible to maintain a meaningful and professional doctor-patient connection, the balance between arriving at a correct diagnosis, moving down your patient list, and truly caring for each individual patient is difficult to find. The advent of electronic medical records (and their attendant task lists and button clicking) and satisfaction scores have not made maintaining meaningful patient relationships any easier.

In her February 7, 2019 Perspective piece for The New England Journal of Medicine, cardiologist Dr. Lisa Rosenbaum describes her encounters with the medical system as a patient after sustaining a Jones fracture. As she highlights her experience from the initial presentation in the emergency department to the follow-up examination with an orthopedic surgeon, she describes the repeated sensation of being a diagnosis treated by an algorithm rather than an individual with an ailment receiving care.

She also highlights an anecdote about another patient’s family pleading with a staff physician to “get off your script” and focus on treating the unique patient. Invoking the legacy of Sir Robert Jones, the orthopaedist after whom the foot fracture is named, Dr. Rosenbaum observes that “medicine teeters atop an edifice of workarounds,” as physicians try to play by the rules while taking good care of patients.

Standardization and treatment protocols have a useful role in many instances, but we physicians must remember that behind every complaint is a patient, an individual with personal connections to friends and family. It is easy to get caught up in the standardized protocols that reside within electronic medical records, but it takes only a moment to disconnect yourself from the screen and keyboard and provide the creative connection that patients desire. (A study in the upcoming February 20, 2019 JBJS addresses this topic.)

Although you may be encountering your seventh patient of the day with a Jones fracture, for each of those people, their foot is all that matters. It is our job—a decidedly difficult one—to provide the unique and sometimes creative treatment plan to all our patients, while somehow maintaining a top-tier standard of care that is reproducible for all.

Adam Bitterman, DO is a fellowship-trained foot and ankle surgeon practicing at Northwell Health in Huntington, NY. He is also a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.

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