Let's Talk: The Need for Effective Communication between Doctor and Patient

AuthorRichard P. McNamara
PositionB.C.L. (Hons) LL.M Candidate, University College Cork
“Let’s Talk: The Need for Effective Communication between Doctor
and Patient
By Richard P. McNamara B.C.L. (Hons)
LL.M Candidate, University College Cork.
“There are one or two elementary rules to be observed in the way of handling patients”
he remarked, seating himself on the table and swinging his legs. “The most obvious is
that you must never let them see that you want them. It should be pure condescension on
your part seeing them at all, and the more difficulties you throw in the way of it, the more
they think of it. Break your patients in early, and keep them well to heel.”1
Traditionally the doctor–patient relationship has been unequal. Society placed the
medical profession on a pedestal, attaching god-like qualities. Undoubtedly this gave
some members of that profession (and I stress some), delusions of grandeur as they
viewed their patients as somehow lesser- beings.2
With the passage of time, a less deferential generation of patients is emerging due to
greater education, technology and media exposure. Thus, the public has become more
knowledgeable about health issues.3 Therefore it is to be hoped that patients and doctors
are coming to the realisation that they are in fact equal. After all they both need each
other to survive – both literally and financially.4
1 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Stark Munro Letters 1895.
2 Justine McCarthy writes that “Hospital Consultants have always been perceived a s pampered demi-gods
whom mortals chal lenged with the same de gree of defia nce as Virgil challenged the existence of God
when, on his death bed, he declared: “this is no time to be making enemies”, in the Irish Independent, 7th
February 2004.
3 Countless polls on Governme nt satisfaction show that the number one priority amongst voters in the State
is Ireland’s health services or lack of them as the case may be.
4 Claire Rayner, The Healthwatch Award Speech: What Patients are for? Medico – Legal Journal (2001)
Vol 69 Part 4, p 176 - 181
COLR 2005 VI.
Despite such progress, this important societal relationship remains an uneasy one. The
most visible sign of this is the ever-increasing amount of medical negligence cases before
the Courts.

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