Be a role model for patients by practicing what you preach

March 10, 2011

What would happen if we changed our lifestyles and inspired our patients to do what we asked of them?

Key Points

We buy electronic health record systems, add midlevel providers, search for the answers to make our offices more profitable. What would happen if we actually started practicing what we preach? If we changed our lifestyles and inspired our patients to finally do what we have asked of them?

I suppose whether you start following doctor's orders depends on what type of physician you are. Do you lead by example, or are you a "do as I say, not as I do" doctor? If you are the latter, perhaps this experiment will not appeal to you. If you are the former, however, this article provides healthful food for thought. In a day and age when businesses look to get ahead, the business of medicine is no different. Perhaps now is the time for the paradigm shift from "do as I say" to leading by example. Why not try the following suggestions and see what happens?

Be proud of the groceries in your cart.

Imagine running into a patient at the grocery store. He looks into your cart. You also are peering into his cart while mentally scanning his problem list in your head: hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and hyperlipidemia-the metabolic syndrome fateful four. How disappointed you are to see that his cart contains a jumbo-sized bag of potato chips, trans-fat laden cookies, pre-made fried chicken, and the obvious absence of any smidge of fresh produce. Or, wait a minute-are those the items in your cart? Embarrassed, you attempt to pass with a quick hello while sneaking off to the floral section.

Now ponder a different scenario, one in which your cart contains lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and you are walking through the store with your head held high, knowing you are purchasing at least one piece of produce from every color of the rainbow.

Set your alarm to an earlier time, or change your traffic pattern to drive past the gym or park.

A moderately overweight, sweet-as-molasses, 50ish mother-of-three patient says to me in her Southern draw, "Oh, honey, I used to be thin like you before I had kids. You are so lucky to have those skinny genes."

I smile politely but add that if I didn't get up at 5 a.m. and run 5 miles most days, I wouldn't be so "lucky." She claims she doesn't have the time to exercise, what with the kids and all. Hmm, I think to myself; neither do I, or why else would I get up at the crack of dawn to jog while the rest of my family (and most of the world) sleeps snugly in their beds? Should I actually say that out loud, or do I grin and bear it?

If we can't make the time or the effort to expend some energy, then we can't expect our patients to do so, either. We all are busy, some of us booked more than others. We may be overworked physicians, but exercise tends not to happen unless we make it a priority. We know the latest guidelines; we need to be sure to institute them in our own lives.