The close relationship between Americans and “the neighborhood doctor” is a strong piece of American mythology. People implicitly trust physicians to use their specialized training to make decisions patients may not fully understand, but always trust. At least, that’s the way things used to be. These days, the atmosphere has changed for the worse; some patients no longer trust physicians and physicians sometimes resent their patients. The question is: why?
The answer is in some ways quite complicated, but in other ways very simple. Patients have more access to medical information via the internet and do not place as much trust in their physicians. Rather than call their doctor, someone’s initial response to any kind of symptom may be to self-diagnose on a host of “medical” websites. Patients now often go into a doctor’s office the way they would walk into a furniture store, having done the research online, made a decision, and expecting the physician to give them what they’ve decided they need.
Compounding this problem are the TV pharmaceutical ads with the famous tag “ask your doctor about _________.” Patients may be unhappy when the physician won’t recommend whatever drug they saw on some commercial with smiling people running through a wheat field. The end result is that patients no longer view physicians as trusted and respected experts, but as mere workers in a service industry where the customer is always right.
Contempt for physicians is also spread by those who make money off it: personal injury lawyers and managers of “rate my doctor” physician rating websites. For years, personal injury lawyers have tried to get Americans to mistrust their doctors and, ultimately, to sue them. Their long campaign of fear and suspicion continues to gain a foothold in the American psyche. These lawyers’ interests are being augmented by an explosion of “rate my doctor” websites, where people can anonymously criticize their physician and “rate” them the same way they would a toaster or duvet cover.
In many cases, physicians simply cannot provide patients with the same type of personal care that many people remember from years past. With malpractice rates skyrocketing, compensation dropping, and physician shortages growing, most doctors are overloaded with patients. When one can only spend a few minutes with each patient, there is rarely enough time to make the patient feel like they are getting the attention they need. Though this is really the fault of a broken system that physicians are fighting to fix, the physicians are the lightning rods for patient dissatisfaction with the American healthcare system. Unfortunately, this mistrust can result in a costly lawsuit that ruins a physician’s practice or libelous online post that destroys a reputation.
Repairing the breakdown of the once sacrosanct doctor-patient relationship may require a major paradigm shift in both consumer culture and healthcare policy. In the meantime, Medical Justice protects physicians from frivolous lawsuits and Internet defamation. Our goal is to help transform healthcare into a system that benefits physicians and patients alike. And hopefully rebuild some of that broken trust.
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