Intended for healthcare professionals

Views And Reviews Cut to the Chase

Gabriel Weston: The different time zones of doctors and patients

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 11 February 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l598

Perspective and the subjectivity of time

During a recent admission, I was struck by the disparity between the subjective experience of time as a junior doctor and as a patient, and the role of perspective in this discrepancy (Cut to the Chase, 16 February). Every inpatient has a number of tasks which need to be accomplished each day to facilitate diagnosis, management or discharge. For a doctor, this applies to an entire ward and will populate a significant jobs list, but for an individual patient these few goals, the attainment of which are almost entirely dependent on others, are the only structures around which to frame a temporal experience: with thirty goals to achieve, time disappears; with three, it stagnates. Given this discrepancy, frustration can seem inevitable. The responsibility of the doctor then is not only to complete tasks, but to ensure patients feel involved in the process. Bringing the two perspectives, and thus the subjective experiences of time, closer together through regular, clear communication and shared decision making can improve doctor-patient relationships, engagement in healthcare, and the experience of being unwell in hospital (1, 2).

1. Gallagher TH, Levinson W. A prescription for protecting the doctor-patient relationship. Am J Manag Care. 2004 Feb;10(2 Pt 1):61-8
2. Burgener AM. Enhancing Communication to Improve Patient Safety and to Increase Patient Satisfaction. Health Care Manag (Frederick). 2017 Jul/Sep;36(3):238-243.

Competing interests: No competing interests

16 February 2019
Alex J Burrell
Foundation doctor