The Power of Patient Stories: Learning Moments in Medicine

In Breast Cancer, Recent Posts by Barbara Jacoby

patient story featureWhen I was introduced to this book, I was immediately drawn to it by the title and I knew that I had to read it.  Although it was written for those in the medical field, the idea that the author, Paul F. Griner, MD, was sharing specific patient stories as thought-provoking scenarios, was exciting.  Each story (chapter) ends with questions for the medical person regarding how they may have handled the situation differently, etc. which provides an extremely important element for practical application of what a doctor may never have learned in all of

Most importantly, what I have felt was reinforced in this book is that a patient needs to be his own best advocate.  If something is wrong and your doctor can’t figure it out or says that there is nothing else that can be done, don’t stop searching for answers.
the medical books.  But, this book provides so much more for the doctors as well as for patients.

Diagnosis of a patient’s medical problem isn’t always easy.  Just as each of us is uniquely different so can be the manifestation of illness and disease.  Often a given set of symptoms can be the same for a variety of problems.  At the same time, it may be difficult to find any symptoms for other problems but that doesn’t mean that a problem doesn’t exist.  Hopefully, a doctor is willing to dig deep into his bag of knowledge and expertise to find the root cause.  However, if this does not yield the needed answers, it is so important to be willing to consult with other physicians who may have a different point of view or may have treated a patient of their own with similar symptoms.  A consultation with a colleague does not diminish a doctor and his talents and abilities.  Rather, it shows that he understands that no one person can have all of the answers to all questions and he/she is wise enough to know this and not allow ego to get in the way.  It also means that the doctor is putting his patient first.  That is the most important thing.

This book also emphasizes the need for a doctor to develop one of the most important characteristics that any of us can learn and that is to listen.  If doctors learn how to tune into patients, they will learn how to pick up on things that are not necessarily being said.  As a result, certain questions may be then asked that will reveal answers that would never have been forthcoming in any other way.  It is often difficult to get a shy, or maybe new, patient to be forthcoming with everything that needs to be shared and no completed questionnaire will ever be able to provide all of the necessary information, especially in an unusual case.  By doing a real consultation, a doctor can often develop a hunch about something or a possible diagnosis that needs more research before a final determination and/or course of treatment can be decided.  But, without as much information as possible being gathered in the beginning, the possibility of an incorrect diagnosis and/or mistreatment becomes a very real possibility.

For those of us who are patients, I learned about the need to share as much information as possible.  What I might think is nothing may very well be a very big symptom of something with which I am not familiar.  If a patient is having a problem, they might want to consider writing down some symptoms that they are experiencing and taking that list to their doctor so that they don’t forget anything that might be important.  I would also suggest that you do not attempt to diagnose yourself at this point as you may put too much emphasis on certain symptoms and ignore others in order to make something fit.

Most importantly, what I have felt that was reinforced in this book is that a patient needs to be his own best advocate.  If something is wrong and your doctor can’t figure it out or says that there is nothing else that can be done, don’t stop searching for answers.  In this day and age, medical treatment is evolving on a daily basis and there is no way that any person including a doctor can keep up with everything.  Should your doctor give up on you, don’t give up on yourself.  There are other doctors that will help you.  There are doctors who always put the patients first.  There are doctors who truly care about what they do and in helping any person in crisis.  There are doctors who will do everything in their power to find the answers in order to help a patient but it is us who must find them.

I truly believe that this book should be read by every single medical professional and by those who are patient advocates and anyone who is not satisfied with their medical care.  When you have the chance to see how Dr. Griner has shared these patient stories and the very poignant way in which he challenges the medical professionals to evaluate and assess each situation, you will appreciate the value of a doctor who is completely vested in the work that he does. His example teaches us new ways to think about not only medical care but also in the power of thinking, assessing, trusting and believing in ways that you may never have considered before.  He empowers us to do more and be more than we may have imagined we could be and that is a gift that can be only given by someone who truly cares about others.