America's Love/Hate Relationship With Doctors

Pamela L. Wible, MD


February 28, 2018

In This Article

Do Patients Expect Too Much of Physicians?

America has mixed feelings about physicians.

On the one hand, doctors often top lists of "most admired" and "most respected" professions in the United States.[1] People seem to admire physicians' education and brainpower, and feel that—particularly among some specialties—some doctors have the ability to save their lives and/or the quality of their lives.

But among many other people, there's identifiable backlash against and resentment of physicians. Some of this revolves around doctors' incomes and ability to afford certain luxuries. Other elements seem to be related to the fact that their own physician doesn't spend as much time with them as they would like, or does things (testing and additional visits) that they consider driven by money more than care. And, there are those patients who say that their doctor doesn't appear to be as selfless and devoted to them as they believe that physicians in general should be.

The truth of the matter is that a large degree of America's love/hate relationship with doctors is fueled primarily by our idealized notion of what a doctor should be. When asked to describe their vision of an ideal doctor, patients often use such words as "empathetic," "wise," "confident," "attentive," "brilliant," "dedicated," and "altruistic." But they want trust, friendliness, respect, honesty, timeliness, and sincerity, too.

That's an awfully high pedestal. And these expectations extend to physicians' lives and behavior outside the office as well.

How did we get here? Once upon a time, long ago (before third parties inserted themselves into medicine), we had the doctor and the patient. Alone. In one room. Many times, in a bedroom during a house call. The relationship between doctor and patient was undisturbed by layers of bureaucracy, faxes, and phone trees, uncorrupted by superbills and CPT codes.

This fairy-tale physician—our savior in a white coat—who will come to our aid any time of day or night lives in our collective consciousness. Doctors yearn to be heroes, and suffering patients seek a savior. We fulfill each other's core needs. After all, without patients, doctors couldn't exist.

It's a match made in heaven. Right?


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