Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The doctor is part of the patient's tool-box of dealing with illness

One of the problems with modern healthcare is the excessive importance given to doctors. When patients fall sick , they are very happy to dump their problems on the doctors's lap and they expect him to provide a quickfix. Unfortunately , this is an unrealistic expectation; and gives rise to a lot of unhappiness and stress both for patients and for doctors.

An illness is just an episode in the patient's life; and that while the doctor usually sees only a disease which needs to be treated and is fixated on fixing the medical problem, the patient has a life which is much more than just his illness.

One way of putting the patient at the center is by changing the way we look at doctors. Doctor should be treated as just one of the tools which are available to patients to help them manage their illness. There is no doubt that the doctor can be an extremely valuable tool, but this is no reason to treat them as gods.

The doctor is so important because he plays so many roles. He needs to make the right diagnosis; confirm it ; formulate the treatment plan ; and provide counseling . The doctor acts as a gatekeeper to the entire healthcare system and the good doctor guides the patient down the right path. However , doctors are not indispensable , and thinking of the doctor as a tool helps the patient to realise how important the role he himself plays .

Smart patients know which tools to use- and when. Clever patients have multiple tools in their toolbox - and these include: spirituality; friends and family for support; humour ; and information therapy. The more the tools you have in your armamentarium, the better equipped you are in your ability to manage your illness.

As with all tools , doctors can be used and misused. The trick is to identify the right tool and use it for the right purpose. While doctors may be very good at making a diagnosis , mastering the tools to live with the illness are skills the patient needs to learn for himself. Insulin is a tool a diabetic uses to to manage his illness. However, he cannot depend upon insulin alone. He also needs to learn how to control his diet ; how to exercise; and how to improve his lifestyle.
Similarly, a doctor is also a tool - and patients need to learn how to use this powerful tool intelligently and sparingly !

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