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The Naked Truth
By Scott Miller, M.D.

Scott Miller, M.D.

I find it more and more difficult to believe anything that most public figures say out loud these days. At the top of this list sits politicians, followed closely by cable infomercial salespeople, and then finally by entertainment-oriented television journalists. There is too much inaccuracy, too much spin, too much distortion.

All of this can make for an exhausting existence when we are inundated by such misinformation on a regular basis. So it is a great comfort to me that my profession as a physician allows me exposure to a source that I find consistently truthful and in which I can whole-heartedly believe - the individual patients that I am privileged to see and examine on a daily basis.

Every one of these patients, and the human body attached to them, serves as a reminder of one of the joys of being a physician - entering into an individual relationship based on mutual honesty, openness and respect. How refreshing is that in this day and age?

Patients start out as complete strangers, and in the course of that first encounter they bare all, figuratively and then literally. They voluntarily answer questions about their personal histories, encompassing all sorts of confidential areas which have impacted their overall health.

In general, these responses are honest and trustworthy. If you ask correctly, and listen carefully, patients will tell you the truth about their symptoms, their social histories, and the lives they lead. They open themselves up as best as each one is able.

In medical school, I was taught to doubt patients' answers to sensitive questions (i.e. the amount of alcohol or cigarettes consumed). But I have learned that if you ask these questions sensitively, and without prior judgment, you get mostly truthful responses.

And so I remain in awe of this process, and it gets me through the necessary cynicism inherent in the other misinformation-overloaded portions of my day. I take comfort in the knowledge that one day, some day, all of those people on that list above eventually become patients, and they too must revert to providing the naked truth, and nothing but, on that initial visit to their physician.

Dr. Scott Miller is the full-time team physician at The Center for Compassionate Care, Family Hospice and Palliative Care's inpatient center in Mt. Lebanon, and an Assistant Professor of Palliative Care and Ethics at UPMC Presbyterian University Hospital. More information at www.FamilyHospice.com and www.facebook.com/FamilyHospicePA.

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