West End Healthline
Humanism in Medicine
By Himanshu Sharma, MD
Sometimes in medicine it is easy to get caught up in lab numbers and current practice guidelines. I learned early in my career, however, that patients are so much more than the test results. My wonderful mentor, who passed away many years ago, taught me to “Get to know your patients as human beings, not just someone with medical issues. That’s what medicine is about. “This advice reminds me of a scene in the movie “Patch Adams” when rounding with senior staff, Adams was told “Doc, in room 304, patient is here with heart failure, diabetes, high blood pressure and now has pneumonia.” He then replied, “Do you know what his name is?” The importance of seeing patients as humans first and foremost seems more important as I continue to practice and teach medicine.
This reminds me of a patient of mine, Mr. P. He came to see me for a Medicare wellness visit. My rooming staff ran his vitals, discussed updating his labs and colonoscopy and then relayed this information to me before seeing Mr. P. Despite this thorough care, the rooming staff got so caught up in completing the assigned tasks that they never collected the most important pieces of information. I remember asking “How is he doing?” and the rooming staff replied, “Quite good, I think.” As I entered the room, however, I could sense that something was wrong.
I had known Mr. P for the past 15 years and could sense when he was not doing well. I knew that following the Medicare wellness visit protocol was not what Mr. P needed, so I asked how he and his family were doing. “Doc, you still ask these questions every time. No one else does,” Mr. P said. I replied, “We are fellow human beings first and foremost.” Mr. P asked if he had to complete the Medicare wellness visit as the rooming staff suggested, and I reassured him that this was not necessary. “Doc, my sister passed away suddenly three days ago. She was very active. She was diagnosed with COVID. She died three days ago. I could not see her in the hospital due to COVID policies. I was able to talk to her on video call. Thank God my grandson knew how to do that. At least, I was able to say goodbye. Also, she did not suffer at all. She never wanted to have a breathing tube and never wanted to be resuscitated,” he said.
For the rest of the visit, we forgot about colonoscopies, lab tests and blood pressures and simply shared her memories and talked about her. He was working on funeral plans. We focused on what Mr. P needed at that time, which was to process the loss of his sister and how to continue to move forward. Despite the wonders of modern medicine, we still do not have a lab test that can tell us how a person is doing emotionally. Even as technology and science continue to advance, nothing can replace having someone listening to another’s concerns. Although so much has changed, one thing remains the same: We are all human beings first and foremost. On this day, Mr. P did not complete a Medicare wellness visit. Instead, he got something much more meaningful: a Mr. P wellness visit.
To schedule an appointment to see Dr. Sharma, call 651-241-5200.