Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rich Doc, Poor Doc

    After years and years of studying the minutest details of life and death, most doctors, especially clinicians in private practice, dream of a long line of paying patients queuing up outside their clinics.  And then reality sinks in. 

    The problem is, most patients don’t really enjoy going to doctors' offices.  For most, a clinic or a hospital is a place to go when there’s no other way to self-medicate their illness, or when something really hurts.  Otherwise, they avoid it.

        But there are doctors who have found success in their private practice.  They continuously attract new patients.  Their patients are very loyal to them and refer other patients. 

    One of them is my mentor.  He has trained countless orthopedic surgeons throughout the world.  His patients come from far and wide, and don't mind waiting for long hours.  And, he is truly rich.  

       I won’t mention his name. But by observing him, I have learned the five secrets of Rich Doctors:

1. Rich Doctors have excellent bedside manners and interpersonal skills. Communicating with patients is an art – often referred to as bedside manners.  It isn't taught in medical school, at least, not formally. Rich doctors know how to communicate with an open mind, a receptive ear and an empathetic heart. They talk to patients like they have all the time in the world.  They've perfected their bedside manners through practice, experience and feedback from patients.

2. Rich Doctors have a great sense of humor - How often have we heard, "laughter is the best medicine"? Joking about the pain that patients are about to experience helps to alleviate it.  When I have to do an unpleasant task, I try to inject a joke (pun intended), no matter how corny it is, and find that patients relax. "Masakit ba yan, doc?”, patients would ask. And I'd reply, "Di naman. Parang kagat lang-- kagat lang ng buwaya!”. ("Will that hurt, doc?" "Not really. Just like a bite-- a crocodile's bite.")  Laughing is a great way to deal with pain, loss or stress.  Give patients a reason to smile and they will feel ten times better already.

3. Rich Doctors are well-trained and up-to-date on their respective fields of specialization. This is self-explanatory. Patients go to doctors for their medical expertise.  You wouldn't like to go to a doctor whose knowledge or techniques are obsolete. The problem is, many doctors believe that this should be #1 on the list.  But Rich Doctors believe that, “patients won’t care about how much we know, until they know how much we care”. 

4. Rich Doctors are accessible.  How can patients “connect” with you, if you are nowhere to be found?  Once a doctor has committed to treat a patient, he should make himself reachable by phone, mobile or landline, especially during his scheduled office hours. But doctors who can be reached after office hours or in the dead of the night for emergencies are truly heroic and admired by patients.  When emergencies or other matters make him miss his regular consultation hours, the Rich Doctor will inform his or her staff, or have someone take over his place in his absence.

5. Rich doctors have good business sense.  Early in my practice, this reality actually shocked me.  But if you look at all those rich doctors, they have either business on the side, or are earning well from a medical-related business. That means they are earning from something else aside from their professional fees. They do this without compromising their patients’ care, in fact, they use this to improve the service they can give to their patients.  A businessman thinks of ways to please his customers and make them his clients for life.  A Rich Doctor thinks of ways to win his patients over, by giving them “over-the-top” medical care.  He doesn’t just prescribe medications and sends patients out the door. 

       But doctors are trained to be healthcare providers not necessarily business people.  If one aims to be a Rich Doctor, you must force yourself to step out of your comfort zone of simply treating patients, and start putting together a business plan.

       Really, the Rich Doctor secrets boils down to this: offering quality care in a warm and non-stressful environment, cultivating patient’s trusts, and inspiring them to tell others about it.

       Unfortunately, doctors, this is not a get-rich-quick scheme, but a recipe for becoming truly rich. Becoming a truly rich doctor goes beyond the mere possession of lots of money. For a doctor, becoming truly rich involves fulfilling his mission and passion in life and making a good impact on the lives of their patients. 

        I hope all doctors can live a truly rich life.


Orthopedic Joke:

       As an orthopedic surgeon specializing in joint replacement, I often see patients in their senior years (60 yrs and up) consulting about arthritis and aching joints.  So I often get to hear about their twilight years’ travails.  On one such occasion, a patient complained that what she used to do effortlessly, she cannot do anymore.  She used to run up the stairs, now, she has to stop midway to rest her knees. But that’s not the worst of her problems, she said. “You run out of breath? You have chest pains?,” I ask. “No,” she answers, “The problem is that when I stop, I couldn’t seem to remember if I were going up or down.”


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