A scientist with whom I had recently subcontracted was leaving a restaurant with a group of colleagues. My greeting was met with a denial of knowing me. This was not the only time I was ghosted by a medical professional.
In two other public places, different doctors looked shocked when I introduced them to my family. Physicians often distance themselves from patients or non-medical acquaintances in social settings. Here are some possible reasons:
REASON 1: I hate to say it, but prejudice can be a factor. The scientist that forgot me had weeks earlier approved tens of thousands of dollars worth of work for me. Being in a setting with people of his ethnicity and social status might evoke selective amnesia.
REASON 2: Doctors socially distance from patients. Outside the office, most prefer to roam incognito. Being called “Doctor” on the street might mark them as a target for crime. Someone in earshot may assume wealth and pounce on the opportunity to rob them. There is also concern over staged events to file malpractice law suits.
REASON 3: You can get the cold shoulder online too. Social media stigma is common. Patients want doctors to diagnose something. Your health concerns are likely to enter the conversation, after all, you are talking to a doctor.
Physicians, in general, do not want to treat patients in public. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) prohibits sharing identifiable patient information within earshot of others without consent. Again, this can lead to liability issues. Also, there is no way to monetize casual consultations.
REASON 4: With a vast education, doctors communicate in another language. This may be true of you in your profession. Consider an accountant, architect, builder, chef, mechanic, musician, programmer, scientist, stock broker, or something more obtuse. Each can easily alienate others with the language of the profession.
People who do not share your profession can’t decipher what you are saying enough to converse. The same is true of physicians.
REASON 5: To care for as many patients as possible, physicians must remain healthy. This concern elevates during the pandemic. During patient consultation, you may notice them maintaining a 6-foot distance. If your symptoms suggest something contagious, there may be no physical contact during your visit. Telemedicine is becoming more common.
REASON 6: Developing romantic relationships with patients is unethical. If a doctor comes in contact with a patient of the opposite sex in public, the conversation may be curt. This might be an attempt to prevent any appearance of impropriety.
Doctors prefer to speak with other doctors or talk to patients in a medical setting. In social settings there is limited interaction with those outside the medical profession unless, perhaps, the doctor is your next-door neighbor.
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