The other day I came across this photo of a couple clasping each other in a dramatic tango on the cover of an old medical journal — a special issue from 1999 that was focused entirely on doctor-patient partnership. The tone and subjects of the articles, letters and editorials were identical to those written today on the topic: “It’s time for the paternalism of the relationship between doctors and patients to be transformed into a partnership;” “There are benefits to this change and dangers to maintaining the status quo;” “Some doctors and patients resist the change and some embrace it: Why?”
Two questions struck me as I impatiently scanned the articles from 12 years ago: First, why are these articles about doctor-patient partnership still so relevant? And second, why did the editor choose this cover image?
I’ve been mulling over these questions for a couple days, and I think an answer to the second question sheds light on the first. Here are some thoughts about the relationship between patients and doctors (and nurse practitioners and other clinicians) evoked by that image of the two elegant people dancing together:
It takes two to tango. Ever seen one guy doing the tango? Nope. Whatever he’s doing out there on the dance floor, that’s not tango. Without both dancers, there is no tango. The reason my doctor and I come together is our shared purpose of curing my illness or easing my pain. We bring different skills, perspectives and needs to this interaction. When in a partnership, I describe my symptoms and recount my history. I talk about my values and priorities. I say what I am able and willing to do for myself and what I am not. My doctor has knowledge about my disease and experience treating it in people like me; she explains risks and tradeoffs of different approaches and tailors her use of drugs, devices, and procedures to meet my needs and my preferences. Both of us recognize that without the active commitment of the other we can’t reach our shared goal: To help me live as well as I can for as long as I can.
Each dancer adjusts to his or her partner. In tango, each partner has different moves; the lead shifts subtly and constantly between them throughout the dance. In a partnership, when I am really ill, I delegate more decisions to my physicians; when I am well we freely go back and forth, discussing treatment options and making plans. Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at CFAH PPF Blog*