Words and Medicine–Health Care and the Doctor/Patient Relationship

Over the past 40 years in addition to being a practicing physician, I have written many books on health, nutrition and detoxification and I have spoken hundreds of times at conferences, workshops and in the media.  I live in a world of words, and I love what we can learn from them. Words educate, and to me, they inspire.

In this blog post, I want to begin a series of messages and interactions with you, and begin by introducing the subject of the “Doctor/Patient relationship” as a key element for the future of our healthcare system (HCS).  I have studied this relationship as it has evolved from ancient tribal times to its current (often dysfunctional) state.  An underlying premise of my vision for the future of our HCS is that the Doctor/Patient relationship has to be healthy before the patient can truly experience healing.

March 30th of every year is nationally observed as “Doctor’s Day.” In recognition of the importance of the Doctor/Patient Relationship, and based upon my concerns for where our entire HCS is heading, I took the opportunity on Doctor’s Day last month to invite President and First Lady Obama, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin to endorse the “Doctor’s Bill of Rights” as a companion to the “Patient’s Bill of Rights” (I will share my proposed Bills of Rights in future blogs).

Back to what words can teach us…

As it turns out, the word “patient” has an interesting origin. It comes from the Latin verb “patior” meaning “to suffer” both in the sense of feeling pain and in the sense of “forbearance,” waiting for something to happen.  This explains the dual uses of the word “patient” — as a noun denoting “someone who suffers” and as an adjective meaning “waiting for something to happen.”  Then, I suppose you might describe someone who suffers, but has no ability to endure it, as a “patient with no patience.” Is that an impatient patient? I see many who are that. Of course, it takes some level of acceptance to be a patient patient.

The word “doctor” came to our language from the Medieval Latin, originally from Latin “docēre,” meaning “to teach.”  So “patients” are those who suffer, and “doctors” are those who teach (ostensibly about relieving suffering). A companion word with “doctor” in our language is “physician,” which also is derived from Latin “physica,” meaning “natural science or methods.”  So, one might describe a “doctor/physician” as a “teacher who uses natural methods.”

Finally, the word “heal” is derived from the Gothic “hal,” which means “whole.”

Given what we know about these word origins, if I were to describe the Doctor/Patient relationship using original meanings I would probably describe it as follows:

Doctor/Patient Relationship:  The connection that exists when someone who suffers receives teaching and support from an expert in natural systems, and is made whole.

There are many qualities to a quality Doctor/Patient Relationship. What’s truly important to you as an individual, and what tops your list? My list may be different than what you sense as the order of importance, but following are some of the key elements…you might place them in your order of priority.

Summary of the Ideal DPR

• Shared Beliefs

• Compassion and Care

• Being Present

• Mutual Respect

• Knowledge & Experience

• Confidence & Humility

• Personal Chemistry

• Honesty & Integrity

• Trust & Confidentiality

I am writing a book about the future of our healthcare system, and a key chapter is about the Doctor/Patient Relationship.  I would enjoy your comments on this very important topic, and look forward to hearing from you.

If you would like to view my recent press release on this topic, visit:


Remember, your health is mainly up to you! And you’re worth the time and care it takes to maintain your best health and vitality.

Stay Healthy,

Dr. Elson

Elson M. Haas, MD