The Woman at the End of the Speculum
May 22, 2013
Located in Women's Perspective (click link to see other articles).
Laparoscopic and hysteroscopic surgery represents a historic advance in medicine and surgery, achieving a 50% reduction in hospital-acquired infection rates and decreasing hospital readmissions and wound infections by 65%. Patients, however, don’t judge us only by these statistics or for our clinical excellence. Patients judge us by how we greet them, how we listen, and whether we respect and preserve their dignity.
For this perspective I thank my patients, the “women at the end of the speculum,” whose stories, ordeals, and courage have propelled me to promote the growth of minimally invasive surgery by thinking innovatively, challenging the status quo, mentoring younger physicians, and, most importantly, remaining patient-centric.
I am an advocate of minimally invasive surgery, but I am also an advocate of “high-touch” medicine. I like to understand the woman at the end of the speculum by using my eyes, ears, nose, palpation, and even awareness of a family member’s response to a question.
When I am on call and there is an in-house consult or new patient in the emergency department, my well-meaning resident or fellow will text me to meet them in the computer room to go over the results.
“No,” I say, “meet me at the bedside of the patient.”
I know they want me to see just the laboratory results, ultrasound images, and vital signs graphically and colorfully displayed in the electronic medical record. Everything is right there in the climate-controlled trenches of the computer room, except for the patient. She’s the crucial component of my visit. I don’t want the initial encounter with my patient to be preceded by the sterile glow of the computer. I want to see her and hear her story.
It is equally important for women to build a strong relationship with their doctor. Don’t let the focus of your visit to the hospital be “how quickly can we get my surgery done and get me back to work.” Take the time to ask questions, to become informed, and to work as a partner with your physician to choose the best course of treatment possible. You are entrusting your well-being to another human being…be sure that your relationship with your doctor is built on trust and understanding.
Although we are lucky to live in a time when we have all of this miraculous technology that allows us to perform minimally invasive surgery, it is ultimately a strong, personal connection between doctor and patient that lead to the most positive outcomes.