For my first blog post, I’m going to be revealing an opinion that will not be met by those in the medical community with unanimous agreement – and that’s good! The current system needs a shake-up, and my approach to the relationship between a patient/client and a practitioner (in my case, a physical therapist) is frequently in opposition to the traditional model. I can’t speak for all health care practitioners, but I do have a good understanding of the way the relationship between a patient and a physical therapist works in the outpatient physical therapy domain. In the name of “professionalism,” PT’s are often encouraged to keep patients at a healthy distance. Friendly interactions in the clinic are encouraged, but that is often the extent of a therapist’s relationship and interaction with a patient. Here are some things that I know are frowned upon in the traditional clinical setting:
- Exchanging personal phone numbers.
- Interacting socially outside of the clinic (i.e. meeting for coffee or drinks).
- Adding or following patients on social media.
Why are such limitations encouraged? If you ask most people who abide by these guidelines, I think they would likely give you one of two answers. The first answer you will likely hear is “professionalism.” In the minds of many, the therapist – patient relationship only exists in a narrow context, and we, as clinicians, don’t want to reveal any information about ourselves or engage in any interactions with a patient that might make us look like anything less than a buttoned-up professional. God forbid we let patients see how we look and act outside of the four walls of a clinic. Here’s the problem with that – IT’S NOT REAL! A relationship without depth and authenticity isn’t a relationship at all, so if our interactions with a patient are always in the context of their medical care and what we do in the clinic, I don’t think we can call that a relationship. Patients can go anywhere and be treated like a number – I think patients deserve much better!
The second answer you will likely hear is that boundaries are necessary to protect you from the “crazies.” What happens when a patient calls me at 11:00 PM on a school night and won’t stop asking questions? What if a patient shows up at my house? What happens if a patient starts tagging me in all kinds of social media posts? Won’t I risk losing my privacy outside of the clinic or risk having a patient that is constantly “nagging” outside of clinic hours? Although these examples are exaggerated and extreme, all of them are possibilities. In my experience, however, those fears are completely overblown. This may come as a surprise to some jaded health care practitioners, but almost all patients are decent human beings that respect your time and privacy. I know – SHOCKER! For those patients that aren’t so understanding, it is very easy to have a one-off conversation about what types of interaction are acceptable and not acceptable. Just like for any other relationship, lines exist that shouldn’t be crossed – but that doesn’t mean that the line should be drawn at the starting line. How can I expect to be a patient’s go-to provider if they don’t have easy access to me?
If you can’t tell yet by the tone and content of this post, I think the current system really under-delivers when it comes to lifelong care and relationship building. If my pastor, my insurance agent, my financial advisor, and my accountant can invite me to coffee or interact with me on social media, why can’t my health care providers do the same? That is one of the many reasons that Limitless Therapy and Wellness exists – to fill the gap in the patient experience outside of a treatment session. As a patient, I would love to know that I am working with someone that doesn’t just care about my knee, but also cares about my hobbies and interests, my family, my faith, my dreams, and my fears. Relationships are one of the most precious things that we get to experience in life – why place unnecessary limits on them that could end up causing more harm than good? I’d love to hear your feedback on this topic – please reach out via social media (links to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn can be reached by clicking on “Contact Us” and scrolling up) or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.