Doctors don’t know everything. Just ask one – gently. I imagine your doctor will tell you in one way or another that doctors are not all-knowing. If he or she claims to be the exception to the rule, find a new doctor – immediately.
The idea for this post has been bouncing around in my head for a long time. I was inspired to put it into writing this past week during a great lunch with my friend, Paige. We talked about the shortcomings of the medical field and the hope each patient has that his or her doctor is looking out for the patient’s best interest.
We discussed how our culture teaches us to respect authority. In addition, we put a high value on education. The more education one gets, the smarter one must be. Doctors find themselves somewhere near the top of the educated heap. The rest of us fall somewhere below that level, especially in the field of medical education. No, Google and WebMD aren’t good substitutes for a medical degree.
When these two facts are combined, many well meaning people take a back seat in their own healthcare out of respect for the doctor. After all, they know more than we do.
Unfortunately, our healthcare system has just the opposite approach. The system expects us to be in the driver’s seat of our healthcare decisions, not our doctor. The doctor is more like the navigation system, it’s up to the driver to accelerate, brake, or turn and any mistakes that navigation system makes don’t affect it, they affect the driver.
Francis and I learned this lesson the hard way, but the important part is that we did learn it. We learned that the most important thing you can do in a consultation with your doctor is to be a skeptic. Don’t be afraid of skepticism because, frankly, it could save your life.
I’m not advocating for patients to be know-it-alls. No one likes a know-it-all.
What I am saying is that we all need to get back in touch with our inner three-year-old when it comes to our doctors. We need to ask, “Why?” Over, and over, and over, and over, and…you get the point.
I’m raising a three-year-old. I hear this question a lot during my day. I suspect it should be as commonplace in a doctor’s office as it is in my home. I also imagine that, in the course of a day, patients don’t ask that of their doctors as often as my son asks me that question in the car to and from preschool.
Everything your doctor recommends should be met with a three-year-old’s sense of curiosity and eagerness to learn. After all, it’s your body and your doctor doesn’t have to live with it.
While stretching yourself to be a skeptic, don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion after a diagnosis. As a matter of fact, that should be your first instinct. Even if that doctor giving the second opinion arrives at the same diagnosis and course of treatment, consider it a learning experience. Each time you talk about your medical situation you learn something new. Embrace that knowledge and don’t be afraid to be a skeptic with them either. The doctor giving the second opinion is probably expecting it.
Then, ask for a third if the first two doctors don’t agree. And this is important, tell your doctor what you’re doing. Don’t go behind their back and sneak off to another doctor. You’re not cheating on them. Your first doctor could have valuable input about who to see. Even better, they could be willing to call and discuss the case with the other doctor.
If your doctor gets angry or defensive, that’s a really bad sign. Doctors should be taking the lead from you. The best doctors gave Francis referrals to other doctors for second opinions and then called and discussed the case with them.
Two heads are better than one, and three are probably even better. There is a reason that places like Mayo Clinic and MD Anderson operate with a team approach to diagnosis and treatment. Much can be gained by sharing ideas, debating diagnoses, and challenging treatment options.
We should question everything we are told until we have a complete understanding. We should be asking “why” until our curiosity is quenched.
Take a notebook to every appointment with all of the questions you want answered, no matter how mundane the question seems to you. Don’t be embarrassed to ask anything. Don’t let them rush you out of the office before you’ve asked every question in your notebook.
After waiting over three hours past our appointment time on our first visit to MD Anderson, we were told by another patient that we should relax and stop watching the clock. The appointment time there is merely a suggestion. The doctors there take the time needed to answer every question a patient has. Be thankful if your doctor does the same with you, and try to be patient in the waiting room. I admit that I still struggle with being patient, but I do expect them to make time for me to be a skeptic.
I’ll close by driving this point home, be sure to take your inner three-year-old to the doctor’s office with you. Then go ahead and set him or her free to unleash a barrage of whys. A good doctor will appreciate it.