The Star of Life, a global symbol of emergency medical service.

Maybe they should make physicians go to the funerals of the patients they lose.

For some it might give a better understanding of the people they treat, the families they meet, and the impact that their bedside manner has on everyone, from patient to family to nurse. Not that the medical treatment would be any different, although it might in some instances – but the sensitivity to patients and others might change. Not that it would make the doctor any better technically, but it might add some personality, and sensitivity to his or her bedside manner.

Primary care physicians, the ones who have treated you for years, know your history, your family, are declining. Today, we’re seen by physicians’ assistants, nurse practitioners, and when we get to see our primary care physician, it’s perhaps for 15 minutes.

Today we have a specialized medical system, and impersonal medical insurance. It becomes more and more difficult to maintain a relationship with a physician long-term. It seems that too often patients, those in distress mostly, are introducing themselves for the first time to someone in whom they put their trust, and, often, their life.

So, maybe physicians ought to go to the funerals of the patients they lose. If so, they would understand that the person they thought too old or too frail or too costly to live, meant something to young grandchildren, a son or daughter, or the community around them. They would see that the individuals they treat are more than diseases and organs, but individuals who continue to make vast contributions to the community and their families.

Over my lifetime, I have encountered a number of excellent, caring physicians, but also those who, while technically capable, were far less than acceptable in the manner in which they treated patients or families, or even the nurses around them.

Take the physician who when discussing a certain medical procedure likened it to licking the floor with your tongue to get the floor clean. It may get the job done, we would assume, but was, let’s say, not very dignified. There must have been other ways to present the argument.

Or the rheumatologist, when discussing the high cost of medical insurance, suggesting that patients might have an age stamped on their driver’s license, noting when it was time for them to expire, avoiding, presumably the high costs of health insurance. This coming from an arthritis doctor, who I would assume, had a number of patients who would have exceeded that check-out date on their license.

The rheumatologist never suggested that she might take a reduction in her fees, or explore ways to avoid duplicative services, or reduce bureaucracy in hospitals or insurers as a better way to keep insurance rates in check.

So, maybe physicians ought to go to the funerals of the patients they lose.

Not everyone, and maybe not even after the first few years of doctoring, although an occasional visit might be helpful. But enough to understand that the people they are treating are more than their ailments, that they come to them in their frailest moment, but leave outside that which they give so readily to their families and their community.

To a 10-year-old grandchild, an elderly grandparent isn’t so old. To a professional community, an ailing colleague in his or her mid-50s isn’t too ill to continue to be valuable. To a community, a stricken leader or hard worker, will be sorely missed.

So, maybe, occasionally physicians ought to go to the funerals of the patients they lose.

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal. Prosnitz began his journalism career as a sportswriter at the Asbury Park (NJ) Press, moving to The News Tribune (Woodbridge, NJ), before joining the Providence Journal. Prosnitz hosts the Morning Show on WLBQ radio (Westerly), 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday, and It’s Your Business, also on WBLQ, Monday and Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m.

Prosnitz has twice won Best in Business Awards from the national Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW), twice was named Media Advocate of the Year by the Small Business Administration, won an investigative reporter’s award from the New England Press Association, and newswriting award from the Rhode Island Press Association.