Top 5 Ways to be A Good Patient


I feel it is no coincidence that patient (noun) is homonym with patient (adjective). Without wanting to sound like too much businessman who insists clients come back with regularity past the point of my helping capacities, it is important to come back. It’s important to wait through the healing process, which more often than not includes some degree of the experimentation process.

“I’m not an experiment!” a client once insisted to me when I expressed this concept. Apparently it was a trigger for him, and he’d misunderstood my meaning. We are all experiments, especially those of us who act with intention and/or involve other parties (health practitioners) in our process. I digress.

I appreciate patients’ patience in the waiting room, as on average I probably run about five minutes late - which isn’t so bad, though my hope is to get better. The good news is in my first year of practice tardiness was usually due to overwhelm and lack of time management skills. “I didn’t realize the time!” Now I definitely do, but often take it anyway for patients whose conditions require extra attention. We try to not play favorites, but that just isn’t how the world works, and Parkinson’s disease demands more attention than most back pain.

Unfortunately, severity of condition is not the only determinant of favoritism. Like quality of practitioners, the quality of a patient is subjective, dependent on many factors:

  1. Attendance: Acupuncture (or herbs) and all healing really, relies on momentum, which makes regular treatment imperative for success. For most patients this means weekly in the beginning, followed by bi-weekly or so to maintain progress. However, there are also some exceptionally challenging conditions that require one or a few treatments a week over long durations of time for any hope of healing. In spite of sometimes appearing quite magical, acupuncture is medicine, not magic. One must continue to restore homeostasis via treatment in the same way we do via taking medication for blood pressure or anything else.

  2. Compliancy: One of my biggest pet peeves as a practitioner are patients that purchase herbs and either don’t take them or take them not as prescribed. My belief is that no behavior is insignificant, and being “just not good at taking pills” is arguably indicative of a subconscious desire to remain imprisoned by one’s illness. Deep down we love our pain; victims love our stories, and one way or another most of us ensure their continuation. There's another group for whom non-compliancy is more a byproduct of ignorance. More often than not the intention of herbs is to gradually restore the underlying root cause of symptoms, in contrast to most western medications’ intention of numbing or masking symptoms. If only I could tell you the amount of patients who come back and tell me they haven’t taken much of their prescribed formula lately because they haven’t recently had much symptoms. This is not how holistic medicine works, hence a waste of money and time.

  3. Participation: Like it or not, we are all perpetual participants in our own physiological improvement or deterioration. Of course there are rare cases where a chronic issue is fully resolved by surgery, medicine or acupuncture alone, but they’re exactly that: Rare. Much like western medication relies on our self-neglect in order to be needed, eastern medicine relies on our self-care to be effective. I can prescribe herbal formulas to aid with digestion and reduce inflammation in the interest of weight loss, but unless the patient exercises and eats (cooked) green vegetables they will probably lose minimal weight. The same principle applies to pretty much any condition that is exacerbated by inflammation, which is every condition.

  4. Punctuality: Once again, my belief is that no behavior is insignificant. Chronic tardiness, regardless of transportation delays or complexity of living situations, is selfish and invariably indicative of some psychological pathology. I’ve observed enough people for enough decades now to note that people who are chronically late always have some excuse, and those who are not almost never do; as if the two groups are not sharing the same physical realm. With specific social instances aside, being late nearly always adversely impacts other people, and I’ve never seen it manifest with as much immediacy as I have in clinical practice. Late arrivals can compromise the treatment of the patient after them, and/or the patient after that, as well as my own time management and energy during practice. Most of the time I try to ensure that it is the late person whose treatment gets attenuated, whether in quality or quantity, as it is obvious that they care not for themselves or others.

  5. Attitude: Being rude or tactless to your health care practitioner, especially one who is about to put needles in you, is almost as bad as being rude to the waiter getting about to serve your food from behind closed doors. I kid, obviously. I would never dream of taking out my resentment for someone’s negative comments via more aggressive needling, however I am also only human. While I can assure you most HCP’s do not need to be showered with love or adoration, compliments or even so much gratitude, most of us appreciate and respond to pleasant manners in the same way as anyone. Just. Be. Nice.

In fairness, our relationship is 50/50, and there is undoubtedly a top five list of what makes a good acupuncturist: thoughtful point selection, intentional but gentle needle technique, pragmatic nutritional advice, our complete effort, and of course bedside manner. This makes for a total of ten components shared between both parties, which might explain why many conditions can be stubborn to resolve. Are all ten of our shared responsibilities being met to the best of our ability? If not, where can we improve? What gaps can either of us fill towards improving as a participant in the healing process?

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