Access to healthcare remains a critical challenge in the field of medicine. What can we do to overcome these challenges? DermConsult host Dr. Michael Greenberg recounts a challenging patient case and shares how dermatologists can combat barriers to care with compassion.
Bridging Barriers with Empathy: A Patient Case in Dermatology Care
Medical advancements and research developments over the past decade have changed patient care in the field of dermatology, but access to healthcare remains a key determinant of the overall quality of care.
And for many patients, overcoming this barrier is critical to receiving life-saving treatment, as dermatologist Dr. Michael Greenberg saw firsthand when he encountered a patient unable to pay for her evaluation.
A Story in Dermatology Care
One of the most challenging—albeit satisfying—cases for Dr. Greenberg was a young woman who came to his office with her boyfriend. She was Hispanic, unemployed, and had no money, and upon evaluating the patient, Dr. Greenberg made a dreadful discovery.
“She took her shoe off and I looked at her toe and I started to shake with horror because she so obviously had a melanoma that was covering half of her toe,” he recounts.
Making matters worse, she was unable to pay for the procedure to remove her toe. But since he has a policy for charging patients with limited financial resources only what they can afford, Dr. Greenberg began to look for other ways to help save her life.
“I called up one of my colleagues, who’s a podiatrist and known for surgery, and I said to him ‘Look, I’m treating this lady for nothing. She seems like just a sweet, wonderful person. She needs your help’,” Dr. Greenberg described.
His colleague agreed to treat the patient for nothing. And shortly after, she had her toe removed.
A year after the surgery, Dr. Greenberg’s patient came back to visit him, employed, married, and pregnant. And according to him, it was an emotional moment for the both of them: “I looked at her, and she started crying, and I started crying, and she said, ‘You saved my life.’”
Reflecting back on the experience, Dr. Greenberg recounts that “I got to save somebody’s life, and it had nothing to do with the medical care. It had to do with the heart of a surgeon who was willing to open up and take care of my patient.”
Combating Barriers with Compassion
According to Dr. Greenberg, the root of this issue boils down to two things: access to care and empathy. For this patient, the issue went beyond the melanoma itself, and this is far from the only patient case out there that has forced physicians to confront the issue of whether or not their patients can afford the procedures they desperately need.
“Being in a corporate structure, you have to stand up and sometimes say, ‘I know I’m gonna get pressure for not charging this patient, but I’m gonna do it.’ Keep your heart open and listen to what you know is the next right thing to do for a patient in this situation,” says Dr. Greenberg.