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A 24-year-old New York man has sent ripples throughout the internet by posting a letter his family received from an emergency room doctor who treated his mother, who had died of breast cancer. The letter, originally posted to the popular site Reddit, reflects an unnamed but clearly sympathetic physician who “felt a special connection” with the patient and her loving family.

The doctor’s letter illustrates some of the hurdles patients face when developing relationships with their treaters. Short, “hurried” interactions and a lack of opportunity to ask important questions can breed distrust between patients and doctors. When this trust breaks down, patients and doctors can’t fully share information with one another and bad results can be more likely to occur.

The letter has resulted in overwhelming support for the grieving family. Hopefully doctors across the country are paying attention as well. More than a few medical treaters would be well-served to work on their bedside manner and interactions with patients and family members. I have seen too many doctors who, after a poor result with one of their patients, become overly defensive and even arrogant, often blaming the victim or his or her family. Rather than taking an opportunity to learn and grow in their profession, these treaters do a disservice to despondent victims and to their own colleagues.

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