Liam Farrell: The art of complimentary medicine

Joe is always grumpy, that diplomatic post at the United Nations getting further and further away every day.

I have to admit, he’s very good at it, and there is a bright side; when he leaves the surgery, there’s an immediate lightening of the spirit, a sense of freedom and relief, like the sun coming out from behind a cloud on a winter’s day, or Liverpool getting a manager who actually knows what he’s doing, or the passing of a well-formed bowel movement after a prolonged episode of constipation.

So it was rather disconcerting when he came in one day beaming and showering me with compliments. I had good reason to be wary; a contented Joe is a dangerous Joe. It’s like when Frankenstein was happy, playing with the little girl, a really really bad time to go near him with a torch. I wondered if Joe was following the dictum of General Sun Tzu in The Art of the Consultation; 'Always do the unexpected'.

Compliments can be double-edged and manipulative, and the wise clinician will look for an ulterior motive. As William Wilberforce said: ‘Flatterers are not your friends; nay sir, they are your deadliest enemies.'

Everyone likes a bit of approval. Fire out sick certs and sleeping tablets and antibiotics on request, refer every headache for a brain scan, and you’ll be everybody’s best buddy.
But patients aren’t your buddy; their expectations and what we consider to be in their best interests often come into conflict.

We don’t strive to give patients what they want, but what they need. We husband precious resources, and the hardest part of medicine is knowing when not to use it.

It’s not a doctor’s job to be popular, and it’s much more important that we like our patients than that they like us.

'We were talking about you last night at the match; nobody had a bad word to say about you,' said Joe, 'And anybody that did, I soon put them right.'

On closer inspection there was some ambiguity to this compliment, but I accepted it gracefully.

'Thanks Joe,' I said, 'As La Rochefoucauld observed, "To refuse praise is to wish to be praised twice." But you’re still not getting any antibiotics.'

  • Dr Farrell is a GP from County Armagh. Follow him on Twitter @drlfarrell

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register

Already registered?

Sign in

Follow Us:

Just published

Split staff to handle patients with and without COVID-19 symptoms, GPs told

Split staff to handle patients with and without COVID-19 symptoms, GPs told

GPs and practice staff should be allocated to manage either patients with COVID-19...

Coronavirus: Key guidance GPs need to know about COVID-19

Coronavirus: Key guidance GPs need to know about COVID-19

GPonline provides an overview of the key guidance relating to coronavirus, including...

BMA emergency lead self-isolating after weeks stuck on cruise ship

BMA emergency lead self-isolating after weeks stuck on cruise ship

The BMA’s emergency preparedness lead worked from the library of a cruise ship for...

How GPs are running 'hot sites' during the COVID-19 outbreak

How GPs are running 'hot sites' during the COVID-19 outbreak

GP-led hot sites - also known as hot hubs - are providing a place to see patients...

NHS England updates guidance for practices on vulnerable patients

NHS England updates guidance for practices on vulnerable patients

NHS England and the CMO have written to GP practices advising them to 'disregard'...

GP workforce hit hard by COVID-19 self-isolation, BMA poll reveals

GP workforce hit hard by COVID-19 self-isolation, BMA poll reveals

More than two in five GPs say their practice workforce has been significantly reduced...