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Why It's Important to Have an Emotional Connection with Your Prosthetist

Posted by Bryan Potok on

If you’re in the market for a new Prosthetist or you’re thinking of replacing your current one, you may have considered the usual qualifications: education, skills, expertise, and for some, whether they are covered by health insurance. These are all good qualities to consider but you might start looking into another important but often neglected aspect in the patient-prosthetist dynamic that can greatly affect your well-being: an emotional connection.

But before we take a look at the reasons below, you have to figure out what you want from your prosthetist: Do you want them to make all the decisions, with minimal input from you? Or do you want to be involved in your healing process? What you want out of your prosthetic experience will largely determine what type of prosthetist will suit you.

It's important to emotionally connect with your leg maker.

Emotional Connection: The Key to Your Healing

If you’re the type who wants to be actively involved in the entire healing process, then choosing a prosthetist capable of a connection is important. In fact, numerous studies have been dedicated to the positive effects of a bond between patient and healthcare provider. It has been talked about in media, albeit not enough.

The National Institute of Mental Health launched an investigation that directly compared the efficacy of two types of psychotherapy (cognitive behavioral and interpersonal) with a (now old) antidepressant called imipramine. After randomizing several hundred depressed individuals to one of these interventions, researchers followed them for five years. This was the only known long-term study on the treatment of depression.

What may be interesting to you is the sub-study of the larger project: Researchers recorded physician-patient interactions during clinical visits. The recorded videos were then showed to expert raters who were tasked to assess how good the relationship was between the doctor and patient, based solely on what was heard and seen on the tapes.

Just by watching the videos, the raters were able to accurately predict which patients would get well and which ones wouldn’t, regardless of the treatment they were receiving.

The conclusion of the sub-study found out that having a good relationship between physician and patient turned out to be more powerful in promoting recovery from depression than whether one got an active treatment or placebo.

An important finding from the sub-study was how the patient felt about the doctor and how it directly contributed to the patient’s recovery. Patients who showed a positive emotional connection with their doctors were far more likely than others to improve. But there is another piece to the puzzle—what the doctor felt and believed was also important. Beyond the quality of the personal relationship with the patient, if a physician believed that the patient would improve, they were more likely to do so.

These findings have been replicated in succeeding studies, all of which highlight a simple but oft-overlooked fact: A patient’s relationship with their clinician can be a powerful source of healing. And this doesn’t just hold true for depression; it holds true for every patient-doctor interaction.

At present, more and more hospitals hold interpersonal trainings for their doctors, so they can go from merely providing patient satisfaction to “patient engagement”.

Patient engagement is another term for how the patient responds to their doctor. Many healthcare providers believe that this can be achieved when a doctor connects emotionally, listens emphatically, and communicates in a way that conveys an understanding of the patient’s individual needs and desires. Because of the intimate nature of almost all health disciplines, more and more doctors are now finding it necessary to put the patient at ease through creating a bond. This way, the patient feels free to disclose anything and everything the doctor needs to hear for a proper diagnosis.

Figuring out if your current or prospective prosthetist is capable of establishing this connection takes some time. You can expect to put in a few visits before coming to a conclusion. 

To help you along your search, here are some of the things you need to consider to determine if you’ve found the right prosthetist:

1. Communication Skills

In any relationship, communication is always a two-way street, and it shouldn’t be any different between you and your prosthetist. Pay attention to whether your prosthetist listens to your concerns or not. When you are talking, it is critical that they give you their full attention; their eyes shouldn’t be focused on their chart or computer screens or anywhere else, but on you.

The following are some telltale signs that they are actively listening to you: they make eye contact and use encouraging body language—uncrossed arms, relaxed face, and periodic nodding or any acknowledgement that they understood what you were saying. In other words, they make you feel understood and heard.

Pay attention to these signs because appropriate diagnosis and treatment depend not only on your ability to share your concerns, but also on their ability to listen. If you feel that your prosthetist is not listening to what you’re saying, you instinctively shut down and end up not saying enough, which leads your prosthetist to make uninformed decisions.

In addition, your ability to understand and follow treatment recommendations depends largely on your prosthetist’s ability to translate complex terms and topics into understandable and actionable advice. In other words, if both sides severely lack communication skills, your health suffers.

2. Empathy

While every patient wants their physician to be skilled, equally important is the patient’s need for doctors who have personal attributes that contribute to their professionalism. This is what makes human interactions vastly different from a human to robot one.

The next item on your prosthetist checklist is empathy, which is the ability to share someone’s perspective and see the world from their point of view. For healthcare providers, simply listening is not enough. A prosthetist who fully understands where you are coming from is better able to provide advice and treatments that align with your needs.

Recent studies show that patients whose doctors listen to them and demonstrate an understanding of their concerns comply more with those doctors’ orders, are more satisfied with their treatment, and enjoy better health. And, according to a 2014 study on “Physician Empathy and Subjective Evaluation of Medical Treatment Outcome in Trauma Surgery Patients”, patients who rated their surgeons as highly caring during their stay in the hospital were 20 times more likely to rate their surgery outcome as positive.

3. Trust

Trust is an important element in any relationship, including a patient-prosthetist dynamic. The presence of this quality allows you to effectively and unashamedly discuss your medical concerns as well as ask questions about your treatment or prosthetics. Trust between you and your prosthetist also makes you more likely to comply with your prosthetist’s instructions, and therefore, get better care.

A survey done by Consumer Reports and published in the Washington Post revealed insights from doctors on what patients can do to get the most out of their treatment.

In the survey, 76% of physicians said that forming a long-term relationship with your primary-care physician is the most important thing you can do to obtain better medical care. Forming this long-term relationship allows your prosthetist to see you as more than a patient who was assigned to them, which makes them even more invested in the outcome.

Next, 61% of the physicians surveyed said that being respectful and courteous would help them “very much”. Establishing a relationship is, after all, a two-way street.

While the findings seem to be common sense, nothing groundbreaking, the main takeaway from the study is that trust or basic courtesy on both sides of the patient-doctor equation results in better outcomes for the patient.

4. Professional Boundaries

In spite of all the talk about the importance of establishing a good relationship with your prosthetist, the last item in your checklist should be professional boundaries. Your prosthetist must be able to draw the line between trusted confidant and friend.

While there’s nothing wrong with cultivating a friendship with your prosthetist—to the point that you know about their family and they know about yours—being an effective care provider calls for the ability to communicate with patients honestly and without the fear of hurting feelings that might affect a typical friendship. A friend might be inclined to protect you from bad news or hard truths, a quality that you don’t want from your prosthetist. 

Choosing a good prosthetist depends on many factors, including the ability to maintain strong, healthy relationships with patients. When you’re assessing your current prosthetist, or considering a new one, remember that your ability to connect may be just as important as their office location and credentials.

Ultimately, for prosthetists to be able to do their job properly, don’t be afraid to ask questions or strike a conversation that will help you heal better and even, maximize your potential.


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