The Danger of Over Promising In Healthcare

It seems that the healthcare industry is so focused on reassuring patients and making them feel good that they have forgotten their words, and actions speak volumes.

Healthcare is one of those industries that essentially promises patients the world but delivers a marble. Chances are you have visited the doctor or gone to the emergency room and been told ‘The doctor will see you shortly’ only to be left waiting for an extended period. When you ask ‘How much longer?’ You are often met with a reassuring reply that it won’t be too much longer. Yet, you continue to wait, growing more and more impatient with time.

It seems that the healthcare industry is so focused on reassuring patients and making them feel good that they have forgotten their words, and actions speak volumes.  

Overpromising and under-delivering is a common issue in healthcare, and it causes significant problems.

Increased productivity, lower wait times, and better results are promises that are delivered daily. Yet, patients, doctors, and healthcare communicators continue to wait.

The Problem with Empty Promises:

We are told It won’t be long because it is the polite response to a patient’s inquiry on their expected wait time. However, realistically if the receptionist was to say, ‘I am not sure how long the wait will be’ You would feel better and would be more prepared for the wait ahead. However, if you were then called into the doctor’s office 15 minutes later, you would feel happy and relieved. 

The biggest problem with the healthcare industry is that it tends to over-promise and under-deliver when simply delivering and being honest works so much better.

Telling a patient, “The doctor will be with you shortly,” but leaving them to wait hours before being seen leads the patient to have a negative view of the situation and causes unneeded anxiety.

A Wide-Spread Issue:

Unfortunately, It is not only the wait times that fall victim to these unfulfilled promises in healthcare. Watch any infomercial created by any drug company in any part of the world, and you will see the same issue. Smiling, happy people who have taken the specified medications and are now disease-free and enjoying life. Some of these commercials portray images of happy families; others show people outdoors enjoying nature, strolling the beach, or riding their bikes. These commercials are always the same as if they have all been fabricated from the same generic script. Each promises a speedy recovery, and the side effects of the medication are quickly listed at the very end or sometimes listed in tiny print that is impossible to read.

The problem with these types of promises is that they provide hope that may not be realistic. They show people who are suffering from chronic illnesses doing all the things the patient watching may never be able to do in life. While hope can be an excellent tool, false hope can lead to feelings of defeat and leave patients feeling unworthy, depressed, or ashamed.

Besides leaving people feeling sad, over-promising in healthcare hurts our wallets. The  Affordable Care Act (ACA), for example, will create funding through increased taxes. This means that you are still paying to see a doctor, despite government promises of improved access. 

We Are All Failing:

Caregivers, children, and siblings make promises to loved ones that they will care for them, that they will not lose their independence, and that they will try everything possible to make them better when they are ill. Sadly, when a loved one does fall ill, time and pressure take over and those people eventually give up and give in. Grandma is shipped off to a care center, Uncle Paul is forced to sell his beloved home, and the family pulls the plug on Karen – who has been in a coma for three months. We all fail. Afterall, we are only human, and life is a lot to handle. 

While we all fail sometimes, our healthcare system should not fail us. When the time comes to seek care for grandpa, or when your spouse is gravely ill, the system is supposed to be there to support you. 

Throughout their early education, doctors are taught that trust is paramount within the field. The trust of your patient needs to come before anything else. Patients and their families need to trust their doctor, they need to believe that they are competent and can handle their care. They must see compassion, they need to have faith. However, in aiming to reassure patients, people often make promises they cannot keep. 

Simple, stereotypical phrases like “We will have you back on your feet in no time” can take on a whole new meaning, and can lead to deep-rooted disappointment when no fulfilled as promised. 

Worse still are the promises made for others. “We will send you to this person, they will sort this out” or “They will do this test and have you back home in a few hours.” Making promises for other people, in other departments or industries without any fist=hand knowledge or control is sure to lead to trouble, and yet it is continually done every day in healthcare. 

Big Concerns in the Future:

One positive thing that Donald Trump’s Presidency did was highlight the issues within the US healthcare system and show the world what empty promises look like. Promises of universal healthcare, accessible to all at a fraction of the price were the brunt of his platform at all times. Sadly, this promise relied on millions of other people, but he failed to consult with them before making his claims. 

Donald Trump was saying what the people wanted to hear, a common practice in the business industry. Unfortunately, the way that people do business is not the way that they do healthcare. The promises made during Trump’s campaign, and by many other politicians throughout history, were simply not possible, and thus, citizens were left disappointed. 

Much like the eager patients in the waiting room, America is now eagerly awaiting a solution that may not be possible either. To change the system, you would need a complete overhaul, and that is simply not going to happen. 

So, we continue to wait, occasionally asking inquiring, and being told – “It won’t be too long.”


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