Dear Aunt Bubandpie:
I am a doctor – a specialist, in fact – and I’m concerned that my patients have insufficient respect for my authority. What can I do to put uppity patients in their place?
Doctor World-Renowned Expert
Dear Doctor World-Renowned Expert:
You ask a very good question. In this age of Internet access, many physicians are faced with arrogant patients who believe that an hour of browsing on Google qualifies them to offer an educated opinion about their disorders or those of their children. The honour of the medical profession is contingent upon our ability to convey to these parents a sense of their presumption and ignorance.
A common mistake many doctors make is to display their superior knowledge by sharing it with patients. While this may make a good first impression – especially if you are careful to use plenty of polysyllabic medical terms – ultimately this tactic defeats the purpose. The knowledge you share with your patients will serve only to narrow the gap between your expertise and their lowly ignorance. The best way to avoid such a scenario is to follow this simple maxim: Ask questions. Reveal nothing.
Of course, asking questions carries a risk as well. Patients may develop an overly exalted sense of their own importance. It’s essential to use at least one of the following tactics to ensure that patients come away with a sense of confusion and inadequacy. When a patient answers a question, do one or more of the following:
- Raise your eyebrows skeptically and grunt non-committally. Remember that your goal here is not to suggest that the information provided by the patient is worrisome but rather that it is exaggerated, unimportant, or delusional.
- Respond with a sentence beginning with the word “But.” The rest of the sentence doesn’t matter – the patient will be on the defensive and unable to absorb what you’re saying anyway.
- Ask follow-up questions the patient is not in a position to answer. Since you are a specialist, a good approach would be to focus on making the patient account for the motives of the referring agency.
- Shrug your shoulders frequently – not in ignorance, of course, but rather to belittle the answers your patients provide.
- Nip in the bud any attempt the patient makes to turn the tables by asking questions of you. A curt “I can’t answer that” will usually do the trick.
These tactics should ensure that your patients leave your office with a strong sense of their inferior position in the doctor-patient hierarchy. Do not cloud the issue with any complimentary or reassuring remarks. Before long, you will begin to see a newly respectful demeanour in place of the brash overconfidence that has become all too common in these degenerate days.
Yours in doctoral solidarity,