Recently, my wife and I sat down to order Thai food and found ourselves lost in the variety of selections and descriptions available; we were both familiar with Thai food, having previously enjoyed amongst friends back home. It had been a long day; we were hungry, but very excited to consume, not only a new experience, but also some flavors unique to Thai food tastes & textures. Later, we realized the restaurant as not traditional Thai, but Thai fusion, instead.

Many times, waiters & waitresses offer a beverage, leave you with the menu, and if it looks like you’re struggling to decide what to get, they walk away, saying “ok, no problem - I’ll give you more time.” Fortunately our waitress didn’t leave us hanging; she explained the dishes we were interested in, how other patrons reacted to them, and tried to match our palates and spice tolerance with items on the menu.

Imagine patients experience this kind of bewilderment all the time; they’re in an environment, where the language is different, there are unfamiliar acronyms, the flow, and essentially everything is unnatural… A person comes in craving reassurance having felt numbness, dizziness, pain, or weakness and we provide a menu of sorts. “How about a CT with (or without) a little contrast on the side?”

Many of us entered medicine specifically because we were attracted to being in a position of authority, and many older patients require direction, when decision-making moments arise. They may respond, saying “hey, you’re the doctor - I’m here to follow your guidance.” It’s these patients that let us know what most patients will benefit from most. For example, I’ve never heard a patient say “Hey, Doc - just tell me what to do, and I’ll do it.”

Patients anymore don’t want or benefit greatly from having healthcare providers who see themselves as directors directing, but rather, they seem to do well with providers, who see themselves as guides providing guidance and recommenders, making recommendations.

Let’s face it - the typical healthcare worker has the experience of seeing patients get blood drawn, scans of all sorts, and various procedures… We see them before and we see them afterwards. We examine the raw data and review official results, so develop an understanding of the range of possibilities, given the days-long learning inherent working in our environment.

But at the day’s end, patients wield this powerful instrument, called choice.

The valuable service/commodity we are able to offer is OUR experience, that patients may make informed choices. This does require balance, as having so many choices can be overwhelming… However, when you strike the most effective balance, patients will thank you for this most important service you have provided, as they’ll have grown from the experience you have shared with them and the one you have shared together.

Said differently, making recommendations and providing guidance are one-sided and do not fully engage the choice patients have in their own care. Help your patients win, by offering guidance & recommendations. And patients, realizing your wisdom & generosity will reward you with the ultimate question: “what would you do if you were in my shoes? (given what you know).