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The Art of Medicine

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The Art of Medicine

Doctors who show empathy and acknowledge their patients’ fears and anxieties are more effective than doctors who keep patients at an emotional arm’s length.

This was the finding in a research study published in the British medical journal The Lancet. In the same study, practitioners who attempted to form warm and friendly relationships with their patients, and reassured them that they would soon be better, were more effective than practitioners who kept their consultations impersonal, formal, or uncertain.

After finishing my Internship at Baragwaneth Hospital in South Africa almost 30 years ago, I went to apprentice in a busy General Practice in Johannesburg. At the hospital, I had been treating acutely ill patients with pneumonia, broken bones and heart failure. Now, patients were coming to see me with fatigue, aches and pains and insomnia, and despite my training, I didn’t know what to do.

Like most doctors, my medical education was in crisis care and I simply had not been taught to deal with these types of problems. These patients were not sick enough to be in hospital, but nor were they well, and they automatically assumed a doctor could help. The majority of patients a general practitioner sees are like this. I often refer to them as the “walking wounded” or “worried well.”

At my wits end, I went to Paul Davis, the wise GP I was apprenticing with at the time. Paul smiled knowingly, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Most patients get better in spite of the medicines we give them, your job is to listen to them, be there for them, and support them.”

I watched him closely for the next year and noticed how he always fostered an atmosphere of caring by listening attentively to his patients, perhaps offering a word of encouragement or, when appropriate, a reassuring touch. Patients walked out of his office occasionally with a prescription, but always feeling better and more hopeful, regardless of what they came in for. From Paul I learned the art of medicine, how to pay attention to my patients and how to foster a good doctor/ patient relationship.

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Dr. Frank Lipman

Founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City, Dr Frank Lipman is a pioneer and internationally recognized expert in the fields of Integrative and Functional Medicine. His personal brand of healing has helped thousands of people reclaim their vitality and recover their zest of life. To hang with Frank, visit his blog, follow him on Twitter or join his Facebook community today.


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9:47PM PDT on Jul 13, 2010

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11:31AM PDT on Mar 30, 2010

This article rings some hope for patents. However, the medical field is filled with cold, uncaring people!

9:55PM PDT on Mar 26, 2010

The "ideal" doctor is someone who validates my pain, listens to my problem and treats me with professional courtesy. I, in turn, want to be the ideal patient.
iedge karte

8:53AM PDT on Mar 24, 2010

thank you

10:40PM PST on Mar 8, 2010

When I became a nurse in 1976, we were to be cold, non familiar, and known by Mrs. so and so. Thank God that has changed.

11:10AM PST on Mar 2, 2010

Like this article!

10:22PM PST on Feb 25, 2010


10:22PM PST on Feb 25, 2010

great info

11:18AM PST on Feb 1, 2010

Oh Eli, I so feel for you and can relate to the sad state of our health care system. It's not just that all are not covered, but it's the quality, the integration of therapies, true teamwork, partnership. I've been all over looking for treatment, inside(myself) & outside both allopathic & holistic. The more evolved model still has not been implemented. I hope I can be an advocate to spearhead such a task...if my health allows. Blessings to you and all those you suffer at the hands & heads of "modern medicine" when there "hearts are where true healing occurs!!

8:29AM PST on Feb 1, 2010

I found myself becoming very emotional while reading this article.
Oh, how I wish I was able to find a Doctor who is like this.
Every doctor that I've seen has had some type of"strings"attached. It's been what they want me to do & even considering what I want to do is not an option.
It seems/feels like they "talk down to me" or "talk at me", but never really "talk to me". What I want never seems to matter. The biggest portion of my questions never get answered. More often than not, instead of being able to ask the Dr. about something, I'm given false information by the office staff. Not only that, but the office "nurse" is very rude & keeps me from talking to the doctor about my concerns & questions.
There are times when I am/have been treated so very poorly that it makes me feel like "why bother" & I don't want to continue seeing a doctor. I know what will happen if I stop seeing a doctor, so I keep my mouth shut & just go with it.

Dr.Frank Lipman,
Thank you so much for posting this article. From everything that I've read, your patients are lucky to have you.
Have a great day.

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