The Role of the Clinician in the community; selling meat to vegans.

Following the most recent media craze around cupping and other alternative medicine in MSK rehab, many in our profession have provided commentary on this issue. I feel that this most recent event highlights a bigger issue within our profession, which is the role of the clinician. My opinion on this matter was requested by a colleague of mine on a thread, which realizing how long it became, I felt might be good for blog post. Please, enjoy and let me know what you think!

Though I am more in the lab and lecture hall now as an academic, I still see a few patients and serve as a clinical educator to both students and practicing clinicians. This is my general view of the role of the clinician in communication with patients and the community:

A clinician should be confident in their understanding of the human body, based on the current accepted body of knowledge, while humbly accepting their personal limits of understanding and the current gaps in knowledge. They should also avoid filling those gaps with ideas that escape the realm of scientific plausibility, especially when interacting with patients and their community. The reasoning behind a given treatment is almost as important as the physical act. Our thoughts and words matter, a lot. This is a particularly important concept to bear in mind. Remember when interacting with a patient or the community it is from a position of authority (a clinician is viewed as an expert), in that power dynamic people tend to believe what is told to them. Therefore it is imperative that we strive to ensure that the information which is communicated to patients and the community is as truthful as possible. More on the consequences of failing to do so by my colleague Kenny Venere PT, DPT (FYI he’s a bit blunt).

Clinicians should remain committed to becoming excellent in their field and learning more throughout their career and most importantly doing right by their patients. Sometimes that means being a discerning yet respectful voice of reason to the patient and in community to the nonsense that is perpetually disseminated by others, for whatever reason. A clinician at the core is a motivator and an educator. As an educator sometimes what’s right isn’t popular and it’s not easy to tell or convince someone that they’re wrong. However if someone is wrong it’s important that they are told so but it should be done in a respectful manner. Changing someone’s opinion on anything is incredibly difficult and it doesn’t become any easier by being boorish and discourteous. Always remember to be tactful and be mindful that some people just won’t change, despite how well informed a counter argument might be or the degree of cognitive dissonance present. Clinicians should also learn to effectively communicate, empathize and relate with the different types of people entering into a clinic. Communication and use of language is probably a clinician’s most important tool after what’s between the ears.

Lastly, the majority of patients arriving at a clinic already are confident enough in a providers abilities, as they likely wouldn’t be there otherwise. Even if a given clinic is the only one covered by a patient’s insurance, most have the option of not showing up (trust me I’ve practiced in systems like this and people still don’t show up). Therefore they don’t need to be sold on some esoteric and novel for the sake of being novel treatment, they just want to get better. They are seeking the help and guidance of a clinician to do so and they also want to be listened to by someone who cares. Listening to a patient is not synonymous with doing whatever they want so that they feel better. Listening is using the information they’ve provided to develop the best choices for them to make, we’re providing them guidance and options that they have to choose. It’s a give and take but the role of the clinician is the adviser, that’s why a profession requires so much schooling, training and licensure. Also factor in that most MSK injuries are self limiting, we don’t really need to make rehab too complex or creative. It just needs to be intense enough so the patient progresses to meet their goals in the most effective and efficient manner and creative enough to keep them interested.

In short, keep it simple and use the body of knowledge to inform and guide decision making (not replace it), stay current, be an adviser for patients and community, be careful with use of language and have the courage to offer a discerning opinion and humility to accept one. This is not always easy to do in the clinic while working with individuals with health related problems (who we all want to help get better) who may have been exposed to all sorts of information/misinformation and may take some convincing. However, if a patient doesn’t want to listen to a clinician’s advice they can always go somewhere else. We aren’t short on people needing help and if a patient doesn’t buy in they probably aren’t going to have too much success with that clinician anyway. This is basic marketing/argumentation/social theory, as an example people who are vegans aren’t interested in people trying to sell them meat but there are plenty of meat eaters and they are sure to find those selling meat.

Image: Courtesy of Deborah Dunham 2012;