Honesty, Dignity, Respect and Compassion

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Fear often makes people act irrationally. Fear can push us to the point where we lose our civility and like animals, we tear at each other in an effort to hang on to what we fear we are about to lose.

Borrowing from a famous movie line, fear leads to anger, anger leads to resentment, resentment leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.

Fear comes from two kinds of events. Either we fear something will happen to us that we don’t want happening or we fear something we have will be taken from us.

Fear used in a rational manner can have positive benefits. Take for example laws and regulations. Society creates these out of it’s moral convictions to set ethical standards and boundaries. For the most part we follow them because we fear the loss we may suffer if we don’t. But this type of fear does not engender respect for those laws, it simply warns us of the danger which comes from breaking them.

Some might say the consequences of such laws and regulations teach us respect for the rights of others, but I disagree. I don’t believe you can force someone to have respect by basing it on fear motivated consequences. I believe respect occurs when two people, working closely together, come to appreciate the moral and ethical choices the other makes. Out of this interaction comes trust and respect.

Fear is always about loss and in a country caught up in opiate hysteria, doctors fear losing their license or practice, patients fear losing adequate medical care or complete access to it.

When we as patients go to the doctor we expect to be treated with honesty, dignity, respect and compassion. But in an era of opiate hysteria, where doctors have been pitted against patients, our fears often produce different outcomes.

There’s little patients can do to alleviate all the fears a doctor has, but there are some things we can do. All too often, regardless of our efforts to be honest, respectful and compassionate towards our doctor’s circumstances, we’re met with suspicion, distrust and resentment and we haven’t done anything more than make an appointment and sit down in an exam room. So what can we do when confronted with such negative behavior?

First and foremost it goes back to understanding that trust and respect between doctor and patient is the most valuable asset  between both. We both have something the other wants and needs, so how do we transact that in a rational and respectful manner?

Real trust and respect is something earned, it can’t be given away blindly by either side nor can it be assumed that it will just evolve with little or no effort. To leave it to itself invites predatory behavior from either side, or it at least encourages exploitation and opportunistic behavior. In either case and regardless who travels that path, the outcome is always bad for someone.

Developing trust is a mutual responsibility, one shared by both doctor and patient. Doctor’s are more likely to look at the doctor / patient relationship in this manner. My experience has been that about half of all patients give this issue less thought. Some patients expect trust and respect because, as they say, I pay for my medical care. Paying for you medical care entitles you to honesty and rationality, it does not entitle you to anything else, not even compassion as important as that is.

So when a patient establishes a new relationship with a doctor, they should be evaluating the doctor for these qualities as much as the doctor is evaluating the same in the patient.

What does that mean? It means you come to the office armed with questions designed to give you clues about how well your doctor can meet your expectations and you should be evaluating your doctor for these qualities in this order.

  • Honesty
  • Rationality
  • Trustworthiness
  • Dignity
  • Respect
  • Compassion

It’s not wrong for you to ask such questions nor is it wrong for you to establish some basic ground rules and expectations on what you will get in return for agreeing to be a risk free paying patient. Set those expectations early on in your first meeting with your doctor. Commit yourself to these values and communicate them to your doctor. Make it clear that you expect the same in return. You are after all, purchasing a service and this is a concept you should have a firm grasp on. 

Remember, your first meeting with your doctor is more of a negotiation about what each of you will get from this relationship, so don’t be too quick to address the medical problems before first establishing the ground rules for your relationship.

Your doctor wants a risk free patient who pays their bills on time. You want, honesty, dignity, respect and if possible the icing on the cake, compassion.


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