There’s an old adage: The doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient. That’s doubly true of the patient who treats himself. There’s nothing at all wrong with everyone being well-versed in a variety of subjects, including health care. So what’s the issue? At the bottom line, it’s a matter of objectivity.
A physician considers the patient’s input invaluable to diagnosis and treatment. The patient knows what feels how, where and when, knows when his or her body is “off,” and that helps doctors form a diagnosis. It’s also regularly true that the symptom can be caused by something seemingly removed and unrelated. The correct diagnosis is possible because of the doctor’s training, intuition, and ability to remain objective. If a physician were to only look in the direction the patient suggests, accurate diagnosis would be very difficult indeed.
Then there’s the power of suggestion. Presenting the human mind with something – that’s tantamount to inviting the person to investigate it, to play with it, try it on for size. Once again, the patient may have become firmly convinced that he has a disorder, condition or disease based entirely upon a recent suggestion that bears resemblance to the patient’s symptoms. Nevertheless, it is the doctor’s job to avoid such bias, look at the whole person, and provide treatment.
Some years back, a man was entering his middle-age years. At 42, he was trying to read a vitamin bottle, and realized all of the sudden that his vision was blurry, eyes strained and crossing as he struggled to read the small print. Armed with just a little knowledge, the man (who had enjoyed perfect vision until that day) determined that he must have a brain tumor putting pressure on the optic nerve. He phoned his physician, and insisted on seeing the doctor immediately, explaining that it was a grave matter, that he thought he might have a tumor.
The doctor performed a brief exam, then began writing out something on a referral pad. ”That bad?” the man asked. “Yep,” the doctor replied, “I’m going to have to send you to a specialist.” I knew it, the man thought, his worst fears confirmed. Then he read the referral. ”Wait a minute doc,” the man exclaimed. ”I got a brain tumor and you’re sending me to an optometrist?!”
“How about you let ME be the doctor for a change,” his physician replied, lightheartedly.
Later, at the referral, the optometrist asked the man his age.
”42,” the man confessed. ”Why?”
“Just as I thought,” the eye doctor explained. ” You’re late.”
“Late for what?!”
Left to his own devices, this ambitious patient would have ordered a CAT scan, blood workups, and a whole slew of other unnecessary diagnostic tools. Having lost objectivity, he was unable to keep to a reasonable, scientific perspective and gave himself a brain tumor instead of a $7 pair of glasses.
If you have done something similar in your recent past, don’t feel bad. It happens to the best of us. Instead, learn from the mistake, and adopt the wisdom of that adage.
When we see sites that encourage patients to research illnesses and diseases for themselves, it’s tempting to think of it as a good thing. After all, wouldn’t it be easier if the patient could formulate at least a reliable direction to look in? And wouldn’t that be good for the healthcare system overall? Unfortunately, sometimes that Little Bit Of Knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
These days, every healthcare professional would like to encourage methods to reduce the patient load — but not at the cost of patient safety. (Sites like Resounding Health may include a disclaimer that the information is only for educational purposes, but we all know that it is just there to keep the lawyers happy.) Rather than having a fool for a patient, leave the calls to the doctors and other healthcare professionals. If there IS something wrong, getting the right diagnosis the first time can become very important to a full recovery. Besides, reading glasses are much easier to deal with than a tumor.