Musings

How My Doctor Taught Me About Trust

Over the past six months, I’ve had some, let’s say, bad luck with respect to finger injuries. Thanks to Quidditch, I’ve broken my thumb, index finger and now ring finger on my right hand – all within half a year.

Up until recently, I hadn’t seen a doctor for the fracture to my ring finger – it occurred almost six weeks ago. Despite the advice of some close friends and family, I refused. Why? Mainly due to a distrust of an unknown medical practitioner.

Trust is an interesting sensation. It contains a wide range of heavy and important associations. Reliability, protection, comfort, support, confidence and integrity are but a few. Trust is a two-way street. It requires the person trusting to give something to the entrusted, and be vulnerable. It also requires the entrusted not to stomp all over the vulnerability, or abuse the trust.

That all sounds quite textbook-ish, so let’s rephrase that with the example of the patient-doctor relationship.

When you go to see the doctor, you are trusting in his or her sound medical judgement. You’re entrusting them with your physical (or mental) health. Given this responsibility, the doctor (the entrusted) treats your physical health with respect and provides advice which is in your best interest. Because that’s essentially what you’re asking, isn’t it?

“Hey Doc, what can I do (or you do for me) to be as happy and healthy as possible?”

If you feel the doctor satisfies your needs with their advice, then some trust develops, otherwise, an association of mistrust may begin to arise with the profession.

When you go to one of those medical centres which don’t require an appointment, and you wait for an hour before seeing the doctor on shift, meeting her for the first time, how can you not be a little distrusting? With the way our economic system is set up, this is the logical response.

As the social engineer and futurist Jacque Fresco said:

Trust is so important, and yet from the outset, we’re at a disadvantage. At least with respect to trust involved in monetary exchanges. The amount we want to trust those who we pay to provide us with goods and services changes depending on who and what they do, sure, but there are some that are more important than others.

How important is it for you to develop a trusting relationship with the cashier at the grocery store, relative to your doctor? What about the barista who makes your coffee every morning, or the accountant who does your taxes?

The more we begin to trust those we pay money to, the less we see them as robotic servants and the more we see them as fellow human beings. Why do you think baristas who develop relationships with customers sell more coffee? Even if it’s as simple as remembering your name or your coffee order, this personal touch improves your life. It’s no longer “grabbing a coffee”, it’s “saying hey to your mate Dan who happens to also serve you coffee”.

Remember all those associated words mentioned above? There can be different trust levels for different categories. For example, you might trust that when a doctor says she’ll do something, she’ll do it, however, you might not trust her intentions. You trust in her reliability, but not her intentions.

There are a few things you can do to build trust in relationships. These apply to all relationships, from your barista to intimate partner.

  1. Be honest. Being honest is far more encompassing than simply “telling the truth”. At its extreme, honesty is an unabashed expression of your emotions and intentions. By being honest in our relationships, people learn that what you see is what you get; or as my Grandpa would say: “calls a spade a spade”.
  2. Keep to your word. You do the things you say you’ll do. If things change and you can no longer do this, communicate it to the relevant people rather than leaving it to the last minute and keeping them in the dark.
  3. Go out of your way. A surefire way to build trust and connection with someone is to go above and beyond the minimum requirements. It’s doing something surprising for someone which improves their lives. Baristas sometimes do this with coffee art. It might even be your GP drawing a diagram of what she thinks is going on to help you better understand. You didn’t need them to do this, but it’s sure as heck appreciated.
  4. Listen. By hearing someone out, without your own agenda and just accepting what they’re saying (i.e. this is empathy, folks) you’ll strengthen bonds immensely and build trust. Be careful, though, if your motivation for empathy is to make someone like you more, the other person may sense it. Empathy and compassion for others are not a means to an end, but an end in themselves.

At the end of the day, all of this stuff is common sense, but I find it useful to repeat, as it can be easily forgotten.

I’m still finding it difficult to trust the honesty of a doctor’s intentions, though. Perhaps this is the difference between going to see the doctor and going to see my doctor. That personalisation implies a level of trust.

I did end up seeing a doctor. I tracked down one I used to visit regularly and had a few good experiences with. Then I made the trek out of my way to see him. I was definitely pleased with the advice he gave.

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