There are a lot of legalities surrounding patient-practitioner relationships. The first thing we cover in Professional Relationships 101 is obvious – these patients and practitioners shouldn’t be dating. Beyond the obvious lessons on inappropriate practitioner behaviors, learning to be in a healthcare setting is all about mastering the art of being present with the person sitting in front of us.
I want my patients to feel like they are at home when they step into my clinic. They can take their shoes off, sit in the comfy chair, sip on some comforting tea if they like, and tell me what’s on their mind about their health. While we discuss the many aspects of physical, mental and spiritual health, my clients don’t have to feel like “patients” – they can feel like people.
When I sit with my patients and take in information about what is going on with their health and how it is impacting their life, I want the connection to be authentic. Most of the time, it feels like chatting with a good friend (who happens to know a lot about herbs, the body, and how to stick needles into it). These moments of authentic connection with my patients are so profound – we often laugh together, sometimes we cry together, and we share inspirational stories that lift our spirits and leave us feeling lighter and breezier than before. In these moments, I am washed over with gratitude towards the patient who is with me in that moment. Their willingness to share their stories, struggles and successes provides me with a deep well of inspiration to dip into when I need it the most.
Sincere human connection is the foundation for an abundant healing process.
Pain is a little more bearable when we feel seen and heard. If you start any treatment with positive human connection, the possibility of symptom relief is greater. This approach rings true for internal disorders like digestive issues, musculoskeletal disorders that affect the muscles, tendons or bones, neurological disorders such as neuropathy and even psychological discomfort such as anxiety or grief.
Because my patients have courageously shared their health concerns with me, I take confidentiality laws very seriously. Acupuncturists, along with doctors, counselors and other healthcare professionals, follow HIPPA guidelines to protect the privacy of their patient’s health records. For this reason, we are not really supposed to say, “Hey! How’s it going?!” to our patients in public.
If I am Ernie’s acupuncturist, and I am treating him for flatulence (that is, farting for you teenagers and 50-year-old teens), and then I see him in public and say, “Hey, Ernie! How’s it going?” a few potentially embarrassing things may happen here.
- Ernie may think, “Oh, crap! She’s going to talk about my flatulence!” No patient should ever fear that their acupuncturist will do this in public.
- Ernie may be totally fine with me saying hello, and then introduce me to his friend, Bert, who says, “How do you two know each other.” Ernie enthusiastically answers, “She’s my acupuncturist!” and Bert, equally enthusiastically responds with, “Cool! What is she treating you for?!” Ugh. Now what? A patient should never have to worry that their acupuncturist is going to talk about their flatulence in public.
- Ernie may see me, get nervous that I’m going to talk about his private health concerns and symptoms, and run screaming from the room, passing gas the whole way. Did I mention that no patient should ever have to experience this?
In actuality, flatulence is no laughing matter because most of my patients are too embarrassed to bring it up until their third or fourth appointment, and it can indicate serious digestive issues that need to be addressed. Health issues can be uncomfortable and awkward to discuss, so it is imperative that practitioners provide a safe and comfortable environment where patients feel safe to discuss their concerns.
So, kick off your shoes – heck, I’ll do it too. Trust that your privacy is as high of a priority to me as that of your health and well-being. Be yourself. Share what’s on your heart and what’s in your body in a way that feels relaxed and comfortable. As a patient-practitioner team, we’ll tackle everything head on. You don’t have to do it alone.