When Patients Know More Than Doctors

With a title like that, I know I’m bound to get a visceral response from some doctors, but hear me out. As someone told me today, the thing I love about John is that you know he’s going to tell you what he really thinks. He’s not going to hold back. Hopefully that’s true. Plus, I certainly welcome other people to provide opposing viewpoints so that we can all learn together.

First I should make it clear that I’m a great patient. I have extreme respect for the doctors I work with and follow their care plans to a T. For example, as a child I took accutane. That requires you to take pills twice a day. I think there may have been 1 or 2 times I missed taking my pills in 6 months. That’s pretty good if I say so myself. Regardless, I’m quite good at following the doctors care plan for me. Over time I have developed what I call a trust but verify approach. I trust that the doctor is doing what’s best, but I do like to confirm my understanding of why it’s being done when its a complicated situation. I don’t do this for things like common coughs and colds.

With this in mind, I was kind of blown away recently when someone told me about their 20 year old son who’s a diabetic. This patient and his parents had been dealing with his disease for about 15 years. As part of dealing with the disease they’d studied it and the various treatment and management options in depth. As he said, “we set a Google Alert and have read every study and discussion about the topic for 15 years.”

After moving, this diabetic patient went to see a new doctor who had just gotten out of medical school. A short discussion started and the patient quickly realized that he knew a lot more about his condition than his new doctor. What a challenging situation this must be for the new doctor.

I think most doctors are ok with this situation and have been dealing with chronic patients that know a lot about their disease for a long time. However, the availability of medical information is helping a lot of patients to be very well informed on their health issues. I wonder if a doctor use to treating well informed chronic patients has lessons we can apply to well informed general patients.

No doubt we’re in the stage of learning a new dance with a new partner. I’m not suggesting that we should change who’s leading the dance. The doctor should still be the lead for a lot of reasons. However, I am saying that the leader shouldn’t be surprised when their dance partner wants to provide some feedback on the choreography they’re doing. The leader might just find that working together they can produce even better results.

Side Note: It seems appropriate that I should use a dance analogy with the So You Think You Can Dance premiere tonight.