I was invited by Dr Meenu Aggarwal to give a talk at the POGS Conference on How to Delight your Patients. This is a topic which was close to my heart, but I didn’t expect too many delegates to attend. After all, most doctors attend medical conferences to master new surgical skills. Many believe that the one thing they are good at is handling patients, so why would they want to listen to someone tell them such basic stuff ?

I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the hall was full ! It seems that while doctors do want to learn how to cut and stitch and manage diseases, they are also eager to learn how to manage their patients. Sadly, while disease management is taught in medical colleges, very few learn anything about how to manage the expectations of their patients in real life.

The Chairman of the session was the senior gynecologist, Dr Sanjay Gupte, who shared an interesting insight , and the  pearl he offered  distilled his years of clinical experience !  He said that only the most senior doctor should deal with a patient who is unhappy. He explained that the rule in his clinic was that any time a patient seems to be upset or raises his voice, he invites him into his consulting room to try to resolve the problem one-on-one. This is a great example of practical risk management in real life. The patient is pacified that the senior doctor has taken the time to intervene; and is pleased that the doctor cares. This helps to calm him down, and allows both of them to work together to find a quick resolution to the problem, before it escalates.

Fortunately, we had one of India’s  most beloved doctors, Dr R P Soonawala in the clinic. Dr Russi, as he is fondly known, was one of my teachers, and is a legend.  Not only do his students respect him as a “teacher’s teacher”, all his patients also adore him. He provided two useful take home messages to the audience as to how to deal with an upset patient. Firstly, sit down and listen patiently, and allow the patient to vent. It’s not easy for a doctor to learn to be patient, but this is the key to handling the patient when things go wrong. He emphasised the need to be humble, and why it’s important to apologise if something is not right. This disarms the patient, and helps him to realise that you are on his side, and will do whatever is needed to fix the problem.

It was a simple talk, which only served to remind doctors them about the basics of good manners – but it seems that doctors need to hear this message repeatedly !