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Takes One to Know One: When a Physician Becomes a Patient


In the heavily documented healthcare field in which EMRs have practically taken over most, if not all important patient data, it looks like an analytical dream come true to find that patients are correctly being diagnosed and treated.

However, patient care is all too commonly being left to the data being extrapolated form a patient’s record, disregarding the pain levels, and the actual patient care that goes into a full treatment cycle of a patient’s stay.  Recent publications have exposed patient care in the light of those who should know and understand it the most – the physician.

The case of Eric D. Manheimer, Medical Director of the Bellevue Hospital Center describes his experience while dealing with throat cancer as “having fallen into a rabbit hole”. Having worked in the medical field, he understood the statistical data and numbers that his physician specialists looked at – but as a patient, he realized how much more information he wanted – information that had been previously requested of him while on the provider end.  Although he stood at 75% chance at survival (statistically speaking), the actual experience eventually made him give up the will to continue treatment.

When the Assistant Dean for Clinical Education and Professor of Medicine at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University, Lawrence Kaplan, MD experienced an illness that required surgery, he realized that patient care still has a ways to go as far as communication goes.  Different departments that look after one patient, sometimes entered data incorrectly.  There were several instances when a dosage was incorrectly entered and Dr. Lawrence was either given too much or too little.  Timely body rotations in his bed were not always provided by the staff, as the rotations were scheduled during work shift change overs for the nurses.  His wife Rosalind Kaplan, MD also began to understand the frustration of the families of patients, as she too began to interfere in communications when she felt like her husband was not being appropriately cared for.

Lastly, is the case of Dr. Rana L.A. Awdish, who nearly died as a patient in the hospital she worked for, the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.  She soon realized that although a lot of efforts go into the provider end of a job – the many errors she encountered as a patient were eye-opening.  Dr. Awdish suffered severe blood loss into her abdomen that after causing her to lose her unborn child, also caused her to undergo five life-threatening surgeries.  What she encountered at emotionally painful levels as a patient was the lack of empathy from nurses and caregivers and the shortage of assistance she should have received as a patient.  Dr. Awdish remembers having to take care of billing issues for attempted resuscitations of her unborn child while still admitted to the hospital.  She recalls instances in which nurses would question her twice on her pain levels, at times asking her if she was sure that her pain level was really an 8 out of 10 even after having received morphine.  But what she recalls the most is that in those instances when she felt the most disturbed by the care she received, she realized that as a physician, she too had committed the same failures at one point or another.

Thanks to the insistence of his wife Diana, Dr. Eric D. Manheimer was forced back into treatment and survived.  He now claims, “No amount of doctoring can prepare you for being a patient.”  Having been in such a vulnerable stage and knowing what he knows as a professional has helped him in his career post-cancer and he believes he is a better doctor because of it today.

As a teacher of medical trainees, Dr. Lawrence Kaplan took his experience and tries to apply it towards the upcoming generations of residents in the field.

Henry Ford Hospital has created onboarding training and took from Dr. Awdish’s experience to create additional training dedicated to empathetic and better coordinated care.


Becker’s Hospital Review
The New England Journal of Medicine
National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine
NY Times
The JAMA Network