It's a question I have asked myself many times but for different reasons and under different circumstances. And in case you are wondering, that IS my fingerstick and glucometer pictured to the left, but we will get to that in a minute.
I have wondered about how much identifying with a healthcare provider matters, specifically in regard to to a shared experience of a disease process or illness. There are shared social issues that we can all think of that help build rapport in the doctor-patient relationship, some greater than others, including native language, hometown, religion and college/schools attended. Cultural background is another biggie. But how about a shared illness or disease, does that matter? And if yes, how much? I can find little in literature search about this specific question am still hoping I can dig up some data. I did find one study discussing a "shared experience" as part of this complex relationship but on reading through it did not specify particular factors, including shared experience with an illness. There are many articles and reviews about factors contributing to rapport building, but this question about a shared disease/illness is not mentioned.
Not infrequently I do get asked by patients in my professional life about whether or not I have diabetes or thyroid disease myself.I wonder if my answers help or hurt my patients' impressions of me, my competence or their own feelings of whether or not "I get it ." Then I find myself wondering if this happens to all healthcare providers: do patients feel differently if they find out their female OB has or has not had a baby herself? Do heart surgery patients view their CT surgeons differently if they find out that he/she has also had open heart surgery? Does it matter if your neurologist also has migraines, or a tremor, or neuropathy? Would you feel differently if your oncologist had also battled cancer, or never did? What about professionals outside of medicine: does it influence you on finding out that your IRS auditor was audited herself/himself? Or that your psychologist previously completed a course of therapy for PTSD? How about knowing that your business mentor had three previously failed ventures before finding success?
My gut tells me that finding something in common with your healthcare provider/professional advisor IS important, and in the case of medicine a shared experience with a particular illness would be a big one that could help build rapport and trust. But what I do not know is how absence of that could/would impair that rapport building. Timing itself may be a factor: does it matter early on when initial trust is being built, and less so later when a relationship has matured over time through other shared experiences?
Now on the flip side there is no doubt in my mind that on the part of the healthcare provider, at least one with some degree of insight, a personal experience would impact how he/she views medicine as a practice going forward. As an endocrinologist I partake in the care of many people who have diabetes. Not infrequently I am asked if I have diabetes, and I answer, "Not any more, I had it while pregnant." From my own point of view, I can tell you that having had gestational diabetes was one of the greatest educational experiences for me as someone who treats it in other people. Was it the same as Type 2 or Type 1 diabetes? No it was not, and I do not pretend it was by any stretch of the imagination. But do I know quite well how it feels to count carbohydrates around the clock, and do finger sticks 6-8 times a day? Yes I do. I do not routinely share this personal information with my patients unless one of two things happens: 1) the patient asks me if I have diabetes or 2) I sense that sharing this information will help build that trust in a patient who seems skeptical, and needs to hear that I really DO know how the finger sticks feel(for instance) because I did them myself. Obviously I do not have personal experience with every endocrine disease known, so this shared health experience happens only in few circumstances.
Overall however I tend not to share personal health information or family health experiences with my patients, and that is more so due to my preference for personal privacy in a professional setting. In addition I find that it takes away from precious clinic time when we should be discussing what matters most to patients which is their own health.That said, over the years I have found that this shared experience does matter to some patients and I am left wondering if its absence harms a professional relationship, or has little influence in the long run after trust is built over time.
Do you find that a shared illness/health concern with your provider helps with trust or building a good provider-patient relationship? Or in other professional settings, does a shared major life experience help with developing trust with a client? Do you share readily or are you more reluctant to share private information?