What qualities are important in your healthcare professional – your doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, midwife or pharmacist? Does it help if you actually like them and get on with them or is the provision of healthcare merely transactional?
Of course, as ever, this question is more complex than it first appears and there are many answers here.
Different people in differing circumstances will add more weight to the human relationship qualities, depending on the issue being tackled. Receiving your flu vaccine is one experience, but receiving end-of-life care is quite another.
While working as an obstetrician, I gave birth three times in very familiar surroundings – my workplace!
Undignified to say the least, but the reassurance I felt from knowing those around me well made my experience much better.
Research evidence will attest to this familiarity or ‘continuity of carer’ model being more than just ‘nice to have’.
Women who are looked after while pregnant by a small number of midwives have more success in giving up smoking, fewer pre-term deliveries, less intervention in labour and rate their experience more highly.
Following our Best Start strategy, we are rolling out this continuity of carer model gradually across Scotland.
We asked our citizen’s panel in Scotland – a 1,500-strong group of people chosen to be a representative sample of the Scottish population – what qualities they thought made a good doctor.
While six out of ten people said that they wanted their doctor to be knowledgeable and competent, this was not as important to them as one other quality. A good doctor is ... “a good listener”.
So how should we choose our health care professionals? We are increasingly insisting on recruitment processes which are ‘value based’, not just the understandably necessary qualities of being able to do our jobs.
I had the great privilege of visiting ScotGEM, our first graduate medical school in St Andrews, which is made up of people who had changed from their original career plans and decided to study medicine.
They come from many walks of life and circumstances – with backgrounds across the arts and sciences, each of them brimming with enthusiasm to enter the profession.
In another first for Scotland, their course will be taught by GPs and they will each spend 10 months in one GP practice learning the learning the profession, a key part of which is listening. Their tutors were also enjoying the experience – several described how training the students had rejuvenated their love for the ‘day job’ and led to them recruiting others.
Volunteer patients come to assist with the teaching, acting some of their symptoms, describing problems and agreeing to be examined. What did they appreciate about these graduates in comparison to the ‘ordinary’ first-year students aged 18? They told me they could tell the difference immediately – “they know how to talk to you and, better still, how to listen”.
Being a doctor is a great privilege and a pleasure. To enter people’s lives at their most vulnerable time, requires absolute confidentiality, immense knowledge, trust, intricate skills and no small amount of listening.
Dr Catherine Calderwood is Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer