In my practice, there are two kinds of doctors. There are those who don't display even one personal photo in their exam rooms, and then, there are those that do. Me? I proudly display a collage of recent kids' photos. Occasionally, a photo will include me and/or Hubby, or our cats.
I've found that the photos can "break the ice", meaning serve as benign fodder for a softer, friendlier discussion in an otherwise sterile, somewhat scary environment.
Let's face it: a bleachy-smelling standard-hospital-grade exam room, where the cold speculum and bristly Pap brushes are laid right out on the chux, is not a fun place to be sitting twiddling your thumbs. No People magazine can change that.
How do I know this? Hey, I have a doctor, too.
What I've personally experienced is that decorations or photos can help to create a warmer, more inviting environment. I'll immediately feel like this provider is confident enough to share of themselves; that they're open to connect with me as a fellow human being.
The exam rooms that don't feature any kind of personal touch may as well be alien spaceship exam rooms: What part of me is going to get probed?
The worst exam rooms I've encountered are at my GYN's office: almost completely tiled without any objects left out in view whatsoever. I feel like a lobster in a pound. They may get high marks from OSHA and The Joint Commission, but I sit there increasingly uneasy, freezing in my flimsy paper gown. Even our dentist does better job with environmental emotional regulation.
Our pediatrician wins the prize for personal adornments. He's got family photos, his kids' artwork, obviously his choice of decorations (all sports-themed), and entertaining items like books and toys strewn all about. Not only am I made to feel more at ease, but my kids are, as well.
Of course, items and photos invite questions and conversation. I think this is good, and I tend to be very open and honest with my patients. Hey, I'm querying them deeply about their relationships, jobs, bad habits, fertility plans, and private parts. These are all topics that are socially prohibited in usual, out-of-the-doctor's-office conversation. I can at least share that my kids are in preschool and my husband works for the Patriots.
Some patients ask more, and I have real conversations with these folks. My general rules of thumb are: no personal chit-chat until the patient's issues and concerns are addressed. No shooting the breeze when I'm running behind. No sharing of my own medical issues. (Well, I'll sometimes share that I used to smoke cigarettes and that it was hard for me to quit, too.)
In seven years of practicing in this style, I haven't had anyone complain that I waste their time or overshare. My colleagues can tell you that I run on time, more or less. (More than most.) At this point, my regular patients excitedly ask for updates as soon as I walk in the door. How are the kids, how old are they now? Still have those huge cats? What does your husband thank about Deflategate?
Obviously, I'm all for sharing. heck, I blog.
What do other docs think?