Treating Patients with Respect

We ask all of our patients at their initial appointments if they’ve sought prior treatment for their sexual pain/dysfunction symptoms. The answer is frequently “yes,” a reply that is all too often followed by stories about negative treatment they’ve received.   

Here’s a mere sample of what women report hearing from previous appointments: “Just have a glass of wine.” “You’ll grow out of it.” “There’s nothing I can do, and why care about it any way at your age?” “It’s all in your head.” “Just relax.” “I can’t help you if you don’t let me examine you.”

Some even recount scenarios in which clinicians are less than gentle in their examination approach. Although no one has ever reported their experience to me as coercion per se, many have used descriptions such as “demeaning,” “dismissive,” and “disrespectful.”

I wish with all my heart I could tell you I’m using creative license to prove a point. I wish I could tell you that none of the above ever happens. I wish I could tell you that no lasting damage has occurred. However, we are well aware that even in 2019, women are still struggling to be heard.

Were the clinicians in question absent the week they taught compassion in med school? Were their egos too big to simply say “I don’t have the answers but I believe you?” Were they just having a rough day? Honestly, I don’t really care. There is NO excuse for treating anyone disrespectfully or pushing back against someone’s physical or emotional vulnerability. I am not trying to vilify an entire profession – we love doctors and need doctors and c’mon, where would we be without doctors? But some are too burdened or burned out or both – and these factors need to be addressed.

I recently experienced this kind of insensitive treatment by a particular provider. I was immediately made aware of the power dynamic as she literally told me to disrobe while she and her nurse remained in the room. No curtain, no turning around, no immediate offer of a gown. She didn’t explain nor prepare me for any of her procedures (I mean, even the woman who mercifully does my bikini wax tells me what she’s going to do before she does it!) This doctor even gave me an injection without telling me about the medication she was using (yes, I consented to the shot with a verbal “ok,” but was in the middle of a follow-up question when she jabbed me in the thigh).

This doctor is sought-after and busy and booked to the last second, but that is not my problem. Procuring verbal consent from me before each part of the exam would have taken an additional 3.5 seconds and should have been standard protocol. To say I was more than a little taken aback by her approach is a wild understatement.

Her friendly chatter throughout the 10-minute exam didn’t make up for any of this. As I walked out of the office and toward my car, I shook my head in disbelief, reviewing the events I has just experienced. Then, my incredulity turned to anger.

I thought about my patients who have shared their experiences of poor treatment. I thought about those who have been on the receiving end of disrespectful care because they were of a certain skin color, age, ethnicity, ability, gender, sexual orientation, or economic status. I thought about those who have survived a trauma (or multiple traumas). I thought about those who are not able to advocate for themselves.

So, I called that doctor. I told her that although it may not have been her intention, she made me feel small and degraded and quite frankly, like just another faceless, nameless patient she needed to rush in and out of her office due to her overloaded schedule. She apologized and said that she would re-evaluate her practice. I told her I was not only speaking up for myself, but for everyone who has ever been made to feel less than and exposed and inconsequential.  

At Maze, we know that everyone deserves both clinical excellence and respectful care when they visit a medical office. We work collaboratively with our patients and value their input. We never force any diagnostic nor treatment protocol on anyone. Of course, the more we know about you, the better care we can provide. However, we never forget that YOU are in the driver’s seat, in charge of your body, your healthcare, and your life. Learn more about Maze, our team, and our philosophy.