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In dealing with patients, the traditional Patient-Doctor relationship model has been that doctor should remain cool, calm and collected at all times.The doctor’s approach needs to be strictly scientific, logical, objective, methodical precise and dispassionate. This has been the model since the era of William Osler, the father of modern medicine. The term used is imperturbability, which means coolness and presence of mind under all circumstances.
Osler said a rare and precious gift to doctor is right of detachment. The right of detachment insulates doctors and protects them from powerful emotions that patients display in their presence like anger, frustration, grief, rage and bewilderment. It also insulates patients from the rolling emotions that doctors may at times feel towards them.
However, a detached attitude also insulates doctors from empathizing with patients. A detached doctor may talk in a language that is over patient’s head.
Detachment is not like a light switch that you can turn on and off to suit the situation. Detachment, as a practice, cannot be in isolation if it becomes your personal style of distracting from the world; it may not be just for the patients but also from your colleague, family friends and even yourself.
I recall when I joined my hospital, the first lesson given to me by my boss was not to get unduly attached with patients. As part of etiquettes, we were taught not to socialize with patients. Even today, the new American Guidelines talk that doctors should not socialize with their patients on social media including Facebook. Even doctors are human beings and their personal life should not be known to the patients. As far as lawsuits are concerned, it is equally true that known patients file a lawsuit much more than unknown people because over a period of time they know your weakness. One should learn to empathize with the patients and yet be detached from its results. Doctors who follow Bhagawad Gita understand this concept very well.