Patient Care

When Doctor Becomes Patient, There’s Much to Learn

Nov. 8, 2011
Colleen Fogarty, M.D.

Colleen Fogarty, M.D., jokes that the process of being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 was a little too much like a trip to Jiffy Lube, in an essay in which she urges her colleagues to refocus on patient-centered care.

Published this week in the journal Health Affairs, Fogarty’s personal story is titled, “Call it Jiffy Boob: What’s Lacking When Care Has Assembly-Line Efficiency.” She contrasts her own patient experience with the task of redesigning her family medicine practice at an inner-city, federally funded health center.

“Doctors are patients, too, on occasion, and there’s much we can learn from both roles,” Fogarty writes, suggesting that quality initiatives should take more than just efficiency into account. “After all, medicine is a profession of healing. And healing, we should never, ever forget, involves people who act and react, truly caring as they relate to one another.”

Fogarty, an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center and director of Faculty Development Fellowships, was treated for ductal carcinoma in situ, a very early stage of breast cancer, and is doing well. In reflection, however, she relates her feelings of fear and isolation during her time as a patient.

She received the unwanted diagnosis over the telephone, in a clipped tone, by a medical professional who offered that “if you have to have breast cancer this is the one to have because these can be treated with surgery and this one looks small.”

“This is the one to have? Who says?” Fogarty wondered, as she realized that the caller did not recognize or address the panic in her voice -- and no one was going to walk her through the patient experience.

Productivity, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness in health care are critically important, she concludes, but not at the expense of caring about the patient’s needs. To read the entire essay, go to:

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