Saturday, October 22, 2005

Why don't patients ask questions ?

I just saw a very intelligent patient, who works as an analyst for a leading multinational bank. He is an MBA, and routinely makes decisions regarding buying and selling millions of dollars worth of shares daily in the international markets. He had been to a doctor and had surgery done, which I felt was unnecessary and uncalled for.

I asked him why he had agreed to have the surgery done, and he said, " Because the doctor told me to do it" . I was amazed at his naivete - I would have expected intelligent patients to take a more proactive approach towards their own medical care ! He did not so any reading about his problem, or get a second opinion - he just signed on the dotted line and went ahead with the surgery - something which he would never do in any other area of his life !

This got me thinking - " Why don't patients ask their doctor questions ?"

I feel there are two possible answers - one of which has to do with patients; and the other to do with doctors.

I guess patients feel scared and vulnerable when they are ill. It's very comforting to be able to put all your affairs in the hands of your doctor, and trust that he will do what is right. It's good to have faith in your doctor - but blind faith can be dangerous ! You need to verify what our doctor is saying, before taking such a big step ! Other patients may feel intimidated by the doctor; or feel they will look like fools if they ask questions; while others don't want to take up the doctor's "valuable " time with questions.

And the other side of the coin is doctors who are very happy treating "compliant" patients, who don't ask questions and do what they are told. This allows them to maximise their "throughput", so many doctors are quite happy to "put patients in their place" and remind them who is in charge, when they get too uppity by taking up their valuable time by asking questions !

This is the mindset which we need to change - for both doctors, and for patients ! I believe it's easier to work on patients, and once they change, and start demanding answers from their doctors, I feel doctor will fall into line, and start answering questions more readily !


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  2. When asked questions some doctors also come across as intimidating and when a second opinion is to be discussed with them they take it as a personal insult at which point the patient has two choices
    a) Keep quiet and continue with the same doctor
    b) Change doctors and go through a repeat cycle of tests and consulting fees as well.

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