Going that extra mile for patients can be tempting. But overworked physicians must think about the "return on their time," first.
This past weekend, my husband and I threw a birthday party for our 10-year-old daughter. We invited many more girls than we anticipated would be able to attend - given historic RSVP percentages - and were surprised to get all "yes" responses. We planned multiple activities and stations for the girls; however, they were completed in under an hour. The uninhibited play we allowed outside was the best part (plus the M&Ms). All of my little touches were appreciated by my daughter, but probably overdone, in the end. I congratulated myself for not going overboard, but then realized I did. In the end, as is often the case with kid birthday parties and probably with kids in general, they just needed a few activities to break the ice, plenty of time to play, and some sugar sprinkled in to be happy.
So often, I do this same type of thing in other aspects of my life. I over-plan or overdo in an attempt to help my husband, friend, or patient. One example from work illustrates my point perfectly. I was dismayed to find that a number of my patients who had recent annual physicals with me failed to schedule a mammogram. These were patients who wanted (or at least told me they wanted) mammograms, but for whatever reason never got around to scheduling them. I decided to write each woman a heartfelt plea to please get this important test done (this was before recent studies showing that it may not be as important as we once thought). I felt the personal tone would compel these women to prioritize this health exam. I was wrong. Maybe they appreciated the letter, maybe they didn't even read it. What did help was scheduling the mammogram for them at the time of their physicals. I think many of my patients were just busy and put "mammogram" on a gigantic to-do list.
Often, physicians who struggle to balance work and life create massive to-do lists that are largely self-generated. We place multiple important items on an ever-growing list, convinced that if we just get the list done, we will somehow be "in balance." I often question some of those items on my own to-do list, and possibly those on yours as well.
One sure-fire way for me to test whether an item is valid is to test the resources I have to put in to something, to get a certain product out. In the case of the birthday party, my desired output was that all the girls, including my daughter, had an enjoyable and fun afternoon. I forgot to remember that these girls have fun together every day at school, simply playing at recess. In the case of my patients, I failed to realize that my desired output - scheduling the mammogram - was something they already were having a difficult time doing, despite recognizing its importance. The resources I devoted to achieving the desired result were wasted in carefully crafted letters, and just needed to be a different type of resource altogether (my nurse scheduling the appointment).
As I run another race this week on the balance-beam between my work and my personal life, I hope I can remember to use my limited resources - time, intellect, energy - in the wisest way possible to achieve the best result.