Common Sense Health: Have Faith in the Doctor, with Limitations

Is it wise to believe what the doctor tells you? Or are there misleading types, not entirely honest with their patients? Does the medical system place the patient’s best interests first, as commonly stated on health center posters? Or do other factors, like pressure to ease wait times for a high-demand treatments, mean that some people aren’t informed of their best options. The truth is, having implicit faith in the medical profession is risky business.

There are ample reasons to place your faith in doctors and medicines. Antibiotics save people from dying of pneumonia and a host of other diseases. Cortisone enables people to be free of wheelchairs. Cardiac pacemakers add years to the lives of heart patients. Surgeons (and organ donors) give new life to those needing transplanted hearts and kidneys.

Individuals with diabetes or high blood pressure who trust their doctors are more likely to have better control of these problems because they have confidence in an agreed treatment plan and see the results.

In fact, we’re all safer when people trust their doctors. Studies have shown that people who don’t trust in their medical care are less likely to take needed medications, for example. For some conditions, without that medication, individual and societal risk factors go up – the likelihood of car accidents, as one example, or the spread of a communicable disease, as another. People who have faith in their doctors can be thanked for their agreement to participate in clinical trials of new drugs and technologies.

But blind trust is a fool’s game, as some doctors have entered the profession to make money instead of to care for people. Others have fallen from grace, lured by profit-seeking drug companies, or working the system to their financial gain. Some doctors are just not good practitioners.

Watch out for the family doctor who doesn’t call in the services of a specialist when the situation warrants. Patients should also be on the alert for surgeons who too quickly decide on surgery as a treatment when other options should also be considered. In this case, unless the urgency is clear, use your wits and get a second opinion. Even the best doctor will make a rare mistake. You can help prevent this by reading up on the issues associated with your problem and treatment, asking questions of the doctor, and going over decisions a second time.

In some situations, it is the patients who are the problem, as when they don’t like the advice of good doctors. They run down the street to find another one who is willing to write an unnecessary prescription, expose patients to the radiation of unneeded x-rays, or book a risky operation.

You should remember that doctors who try to protect you from treatment are often more sincere than those who push you into it. Not trusting your doctor enough can be a bad mistake. Most of them play a good game.

On every visit, your doctor should be listening to you carefully. Empathy for your situation is the hallmark of a good physician, but this should not be your main concern. Does it feel like the doctor and staff are on your team? Are your options explained in a way you can understand, and are you included in the decision making about what treatment is best for you? Although it may not be easy to find, it’s worth exploring the reputation of the doctor among his or her peers.

So have faith, with limitations, and use a little common sense. You’ll end up with better care.

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