We’ve never had so much information at our disposal.
Through legitimate or illegitimate means, we have access to news, testimonies, scientific studies, technical manuals and many other types of information that a decade and a half ago were accessible only to specific professional classes or to a social elite.
There might be the occasional need to consult a specialist, to decipher a particularly nebulous piece of information. But as a general rule, we have enough data to craft an informed opinion on just about anything – if we invest the time and effort to do so.
Why, then, do more and more people seem content to accept the first thing they hear when they turn on the television, the first words they read on an estranged friend’s Facebook?
Here’s something that no-one wants to talk about: physicians are regular people. We like to put doctors on a pedestal because they are in charge of our health, and we’re like to feel that our health is in the hands of the best, but the best are very few, and it’s improbable that you’ll be assigned even a good doctor on chance alone.
As is the case of most professions, physician quality follows a normal distribution. A few are very bad at their job, some are merely bad, most are average doctors, some are good doctors, and again, a few are very good at what they do.
By merely showing up to the hospital or clinical practice, the law of averages will assign you an average physician. You might like to think it is otherwise, that your doctor is the best, but that is just you being delusional. And average is fine in most situations. You don’t need Hugh Laurie to prescribe you a flu shot or mend a broken arm.
But if you’re in a situation where something is wrong with you, and you’re not quite sure what it is, average doctors will either not know what’s wrong with you, or will default to the most statistically probable diagnosis. That’s not a great system for health care.
You can identify a good doctor by:
Time spent on your appointment. This is especially relevant on the first appointment, or the first appointment about a new situation. Anything less than 30 minutes is not acceptable. Good physicians will regularly spend a full hour with their patients. They will make thorough examinations and ask a lot of questions.
Ability to answer questions and explain things. A good doctor will tell you the why’s and the systems behind what’s happening. If a physician can’t explain why it’s important that you get a specific blood marker under control, for example, but merely states that you should, that’s a sign that he doesn’t understand what it’s for, he’s just following a cheat sheet with average values. Most doctors will tell you that you should lower your cholesterol, but they are stumped if you ask them what cholesterol does.
To Get The Right Diagnosis, Look For a Third Opinion
People are still not used to asking for a second opinion. Again, they mistakenly believe that they were assigned the best person available. As I pointed out above, this is statistically incorrect.
Depending on the severity of your situation ( and a good way to judge it is the level of discomfort it causes) or the level of violence of the proposed treatment, you might want to get a second opinion from another doctor.
If the second doctor concurs with the first one, that’s pretty decent. You can probably go ahead with a modicum of safety.
If not, then you need a tie-breaker. Yes, you need a third doctor, a third opinion. I mean, you have little other way of making an educated guess about which of the previous two doctors knows best.
I understand this is very annoying. Doctors are expensive, and appointments are time-consuming. What about people who don’t have the money to go to a private practice?! Yeah, I don’t have a good answer to that. I’m giving you the info because I believe that it’s better to know than to not know, but I realize it’s difficult to act upon.