Friday, April 11, 2014

When doctors get irritated by patients who know too much


Thanks to the internet , it’s now possible for patients to find out a lot about their illness and their treatment options . Many patients will spend hours scouring the net , hunting for the latest research and the best doctor. Because they spend so much time doing online research, they often become quite expert on their particular problem . Because they know a lot about it, when they discuss treatment options with their doctor, they expect to be treated as well-informed patients , so they can have an intelligent discussion.

However , often these patients are perceived by doctors as being threats. When the patient starts asking too many questions , doctors get anxious. He may counterattack by challenging the patient - Why are you asking me all these questions ? Don’t you trust me ? Some doctors will even go so far as to state that patients shouldn't be wasting their time ( both the patient’s and the doctor’s !) on the internet trying to find information , as they are not smart enough to be able to identify the right information or to make sense of it . They say it’s far better that the patient leave everything upto  the doctor, who can make the right decisions for them , as he is an expert with years of experience.

This an archaic paternalistic approach , but one which lots of doctors are extremely comfortable with . When the patient starts asking question, they take pleasure in putting him “ in his place “ by asking him  complex technical question, which they know he cannot answer, in order to mock him. They use medical jargon, to emphasise their superiority, and let the patient know exactly who the bosss in the room is, so he doesn’t get too big for his boots.

Interestingly, a lot of family members will also discourage patients from doing research online, because they feel that a “little knowledge is dangerous” and they are scared that the patient will end up antagonizing the doctor by being assertive.

This attitude does a disservice, to both patients as well as doctors . A well-informed patient can form a partnership with the doctor, and are usually much easier to treat, because they have realistic expectations about their treatment. Doctors should treat expert patients as valuable allies , who can teach them a lot about the patient's perspective .

If you find your doctor starts getting upset when you try to have an intelligent discussion with him, this may mean he suffers from an inferiority complex, because he is not willing to engage with you as a respected equal, and you might be better off finding a better doctor.

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