Building a Better Patient

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By Edgy

What's that you say? We don't build patients; we build orthotics and prosthetics? Not according to some advice Doc Davis gave me a few years back. I was proud of my skills and sure I could fit anyone he sent my way—until he sent me a patient who was new to our town. The patient had been an amputee for 30 years and kept talking about how his prosthetist up North did this or that.

So when Doc called and mentioned the patient's name, I knew I was about to get an earful. My end of the conversation went something like this: "Leg's too long? How many plies of socks is he wearing? Uh huh, the right socks. No, I don't think it's the socket. I pulled three check sockets before he was okay with the fit. He said the socket is no good? He wouldn't know a good socket if it bit him in the.... What's that? He said it did? Well, I'd like to see that—I mean the socket. And he complained about the foot, too? He wouldn't know a good foot if he tripped over it.... He did, huh? Well, I guess I oughta check that too."

So with my ear stinging and my ego in check, I was ready to listen. Doc reassured me that he was still confident in my ability. I told him I would build his patient a better leg right away.

His response surprised me. He said, "You don't need to build a better leg. You need to build a better patient."

A little confused I said, "A better patient?"

Doc explained. "Not really a better patient," he said. "You need to build a better relationship with him. It's not about the leg, it's about trust, and he needs to trust you before he'll ever trust the leg."

That made a lot of sense to me, but I wasn't sure how to fix it. I know the components that make a good prosthetic leg, but it wasn't about the leg. I needed to find the components of a good patient/practitioner relationship: trust, understanding, and teamwork.

The patient was scheduled for an appointment the next morning, so while I was thinking about him I decided to put myself in the patient's shoes. As I walked in the front door of my office that next day, I looked around and a lot of questions came to mind. What does my waiting room say about my relationship with patients? Is it clean and organized with professional certifications displayed? Are patients greeted by a friendly office team when they arrive? Are there magazines about activity and encouragement? I looked at the appointment book. Do I have enough time for each patient?

Then I walked into a patient room and thought, "Do I really listen to my patients?" My grandma used to say, "You have two ears and one mouth so you should listen more than you talk." It's still good advice because patient expectations are high—they see some amazing technology on television and the Internet. Do I listen to what my patients want and why they think they need it? Do I explain the options and the process? Do the patient, physician, and I come to a decision as a team?

I walked back to the shop and thought about all the devices we make for patients. What patients want is to get back what they've lost. The problem is that, no matter how good I am, I'm just making a prosthesis, a tool, that they'll have to learn to use to get back to life as they knew it.

I walked back up front and greeted Doc's patient with a new attitude and a lot of gratitude for what he taught me about building better patients.

Sign me, glad to be, a little less...Edgy.

Editor's note: Edgy, as you might guess, is an amputee who works in the O&P profession. You can e-mail your own edgy comments and stories to