Hitting a Nerve

When the juggling act becomes impossible


Objectivity is tough, but essential: a critical part of patient care, allowing you to make appropriate decisions based on facts and circumstances, not emotions. We’re supposed to be compassionate Vulcans – able to logically weigh possibilities and treatment options under pressure, and at the same time exhibit empathy and sensitivity.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

For the most part, all of us become very good at this juggling act. But we’re only human, and once the ability to do that with a given person is lost, it’s gone for good.

Have you ever lost objectivity with a patient? I have. Generally it involves the patient being so difficult, unpleasant, or dislikable that it exceeds my ability to remain impartial and pragmatic in their care.

I don’t know any physician it hasn’t happened to. And when it does, ending the doctor-patient relationship is the only effective answer.

It’s never easy sending that letter, telling someone that they need to seek care elsewhere, and often the specific reason is harder to define. In patients who are overtly rude or noncompliant it’s easy. But often a loss in objectivity is from something less tangible, such as the vagaries of personal chemistry.

I try to get along with all my patients. I really do. That’s part of the job. But sometimes, for whatever reason, it’s just an impossible task. Too many conflicts and differences of opinion over treatments, tests, diagnosis, what they read on Facebook … whatever. When these differences reach a point where they’re an impediment to good patient care … it’s time for both of us to move on.

Regardless of cause, professionalism requires that it be the end of the road. If I can’t objectively weigh a patient’s symptoms and treatment options, then I’m not going to be able to do my very best for them. And my very best is what every patient deserves.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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