“Ultimately, I found peace in the realization that medicine is an art and that interpersonal relationships are at its core.”
Ram Y. Gordon, M.D.
In the process of developing campaigns for cardiovascular centers over the past couple of decades, I’ve often heard cardiologists talk about the things that set their programs apart from competitors.
Of course, we consider technology and usually spend a lot of time talking about proficiency with complicated procedures and the latest in new equipment.
Sometimes, the conversation turns to the “softer” side of medicine. One client likes to tout their philosophy of “longitudinal care,” meaning that they develop deep relationships with patients and their families over time.
Often, though, I’m left wanting to know more – more about the type of human connection that can truly build a differentiating patient experience.
An article in The Journal of the American Medical Association offers a candid view of the intricacies involved in forging a successful doctor-patient relationship.
Dr. Ram Gordon shares his experience with a longtime patient from the beginning:
I was in practice only three months when I met him. I had just finished my cardiology fellowship and, insecure about my lack of experience, strove for a serious, professional demeanor. My tie was straight, shirt pressed, white coat starched and buttoned. Above all, I sought to establish and maintain the boundaries of the patient-physician relationship.
Soon, Dr. Gordon began receiving notes from his patient, “Mr. M.”
As has happened each time, I left you yesterday with added confidence, trust, zing, and a feeling that things-are-going-to-be-all-right. I know the cautions, but I also know the feeling and I am grateful to you for it.
Several months later, another note read:
I look forward to my appointments with you. Our conversations are good for my morale and good cheer, as well as my physical health.
At some point in the relationship, “Mr. M” began to ask Dr. Gordon more about his own life. At first, this made the doctor uncomfortable.
He was my patient, not my friend. Our relationship, while cordial and warm, was one of physician and patient, and I was fairly certain that this line should not be crossed. But this request, from this particular patient, felt somehow different.
The article highlights several more interactions between Dr. Gordon and “Mr. M” over the years. Clearly, a deep mutual respect and affection emerged.
After several years, “Mr. M” passed away.
His death hit me like a ton of bricks. I felt as though I had lost a grandfather. I was his physician, and his cardiac issues always came first. But his office visits, telephone calls, and letters were special gifts. I could not deny their importance to me. My medical training had imprinted on me the principle that evenhanded distance is the appropriate relationship between physician and patient. I wondered if we had crossed any lines that reduced my medical objectivity. Had I served him well as his cardiologist? Had I become too close to a patient?
Ultimately, Dr. Gordon came to the following realization:
To deny his proffered “friendship” would have been to miss out on an amazing relationship with a fellow human being. Understanding his nature also made me a more effective physician. On some level, I used these insights to build trust, gain his approval, and improve his adherence to a complicated medical regimen. His survival as a patient was built partially on his belief in me.
Build trust and gain approval. Isn’t that what we, as cardiovascular marketers and caregivers, strive to do each day?
Thank you, Dr. Gordon, for sharing your insights in such a personal and candid manner.