Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Quick Post about a Quick Chat

I've had a long and busy day today doing some rather harrowing medical roleplay so this is just a quick post.

A quick post to wonder why doctors, medical students and healthcare professionals of all kinds start so many conversations with "I've just come to have a quick chat about - - " and then they follow it up with "the result of your MRI scan" or "what's been happening to you recently" or "your symptoms".

Why "quick" and why "chat"? 

To me, "chat" is an informal kind of conversation, often just for fun.  It's not the kind of conversation that contains such phrases as "the results are unfortunately not what we would want" or "So the bleeding hasn't stopped, then?"

And why "quick"?  Would a surgeon say "I'm just going to do a quick operation on your heart?"  (I hope not, though actually some surgeons do say some very strange things, it must be said.)

With this use of "quick" I think that the doctor or nurse is trying to imply that it won't take up too much of the patient's time - - but hey, a lot of these conversations take place at the patient's bedside so the patient is unlikely to say "Well, doctor, you've got five minutes to go through my test results.  I'm off to the pub at quarter past so make it snappy."

"Quick chat" is also up there with all the rest of that bright-and-breezy Doctorspeak which includes such phrases as "Let's pop you up on that bed and we'll have a little look at your tummy."  Or, as all hospital staff seemed to say to me when I'd given birth, "Hello, Mum, and how are we today?  Let's have a little look at Baby, shall we?"

To me, all these uses of "little", "quick", "pop" and "chat" are ways of hiding - and not very successfully - that something very significant and serious could be going on.  They are words that minimise whatever comes next.  They are cowardly, dishonest words.

"I've just come to talk with you about - - " is so much better.  So I want a mass protest.  I want every patient in the country to ask "If this is an important conversation, then why is it quick and why do you describe it as a chat?  And if it's not important, then kindly shove off pronto and leave me to read this tattered copy of HELLO in peace."


Blogger Kate said...

How true! I will! From now on. Please send tattered copy of HELLO, as all we have here are tattered copies of the Australian Women's Weekly with Jennifer Aniston on the front.

11:06 pm  
Blogger Jennytc said...

Sounds good to me, Daphne. I also think that such ways of talking to the patient are quite demeaning - like humouring a child.

7:45 am  
Anonymous Helen said...

I'm afraid I disagree (respectfully!) I think this kindly informality put me more at ease and made me more likely to feel that I could ask questions and discuss what was being said to me when I had a long spell in hospital with a fairly serious illness. It is not dissimilar to introducing any awkward topic (I'm thinking off the top of my head of e.g. resolving arguments with friends or having to have difficult conversations with someone at work) - as a nation who are often a little inhibited about being blunt and open with each other, this way of going about things breaks down some barriers, I think, and says 'this is a two-way conversation'. I agree about the 'tummy' thing though and other childish phrases, that's quite condescending!

3:17 pm  
Blogger Yorkshire Pudding said...

I hate the way that some health professionals think they have automatic licence to address you by your first name. I view that as a subtle abuse of power. So much better to say, "Would you mind if I call you by your first name? Or would you prefer Mr Smith?" Similarly, the seemingly innocuous words that you have picked up on are to do with the belittlement of patients in my humble opinion.

6:51 pm  
Blogger Daphne said...

Thank you all for your comments. Helen, I think it's fine when they ARE being kindly and informal - - but too often they've just got into the bad habit of using words in a demeaning way.
And, YP, they are taught to ask just that and if they don't it's because they haven't learned it properly. The worst is when they say "Hello, Daphne, I'm Dr Boggins" thus establishing their higher status. Wouldn't it be good if everyone always pointed that out?

6:58 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home