Monday, May 12, 2014

Patients as medical experts: Boon or Bane?


In the past days, doctors were the sole experts in the medical field. They gathered knowledge from their fat medical books and their experienced professors. They underwent scores of exams to achieve the coveted medical degree which gave them authority in their field. They shared information and experience with their colleagues at medical conference, expanding their horizons. Their opinion was considered as irrevocably correct in all circumstances. Patients had blind faith in their doctor’s diagnostic capacity and did not dare to question them or lodge any complaint.

The scenario has changed quite a bit since then. The medical field is advancing rapidly and it is impossible for a doctor to keep up with it. Most leading doctors have specialized qualifications , and are very knowledgeable about their special area of interest. However, like all expert, they know more and more about less and less ! As an example a gynecologist would know a lot about pelvic pain management , but might be clueless about an ear problem.

On the other hand, the patients are becoming experts in the medical field by gaining information from various online resources. They research the internet about their illness and learn from other expert patients. They pose intelligent questions to the doctor during the consultation . Many patients have been to different clinics , and thus have first hand experience with the treatment procedure, so they know quite a lot about it . For example , a woman who has failed an IVF cycle is quite knowledgeable about IVF treatment details. 

Thus , patients can be considered to be experts on their own problem. Some doctors might believe that it is a bane when patients cross this line of medical expertise. They believe that medicine is the domain of doctors , and patients can never become the real experts.  They often consider well-informed patients to be a threat , and feel that they are challenging their medical authority, when they ask their doctor questions about medical minutiae.

I have an entirely different opinion in this matter. Well informed patients can be a boon to medical practice , as they help the doctor to put his best foot forward ! Doctors can benefit from these insightful patients , who can help them to offer the best treatment options.

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