Oct 20, 2018

Second-Guessing Doctors


I have a cousin who is a doctor, and he complains all of the time that his patients second-guess him. He says that in the age of WebMD and what he calls “excessive” TV advertisements for prescription medications, too many patients think that they are the experts in the room.


He brings this up a lot, frankly, and I try to be sympathetic, but I’m not sure I agree. Doctors should have to defend their positions, just like anyone else, right? If I read something on WebMD, the doctor should be able to give me a convincing reason that I’m wrong. And what about malpractice? Doctors make mistakes and do bad things, too. Experts, what’s your take on this?


It’s certainly true that doctors can make mistakes, say the Syracuse medical malpractice lawyers at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP. When that happens, it’s important to hold them accountable.


And it’s also true that doctors can disagree with each other–and, of course, they can’t all be right! Researchers at Virta, a company dedicated to reversing diabetes, have been working to change the conversation about diabetes treatment. Their evidence-based system has not been without opposition.


But it’s also true that Virta’s quest for better care has involved debated between experts–not debated between experts and laypeople. And when DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP sue doctors for malpractice, they often call in other doctors as expert witnesses, leveraging the expert testimony of trained doctors to make the case against doctors guilty of malpractice.


It’s fair to say that your doctor should be able to make the case for his or her diagnosis. But it’s also fair to point out that not everyone is equipped to fully understand a medical debate. The ability to explain a diagnosis or piece of advice clearly to a layperson is certainly an admirable and important skill for a doctor to have, but it’s also important for us to remember that expertise should be recognized and respected–after all, the name of this column isn’t “Ask a Layperson!”


It’s understandably frustrating for doctors to have their patients try to debate them. And patients who disobey doctors’ orders could be putting themselves in a dangerous situation–one that costs us $300 billion a year, believe it or not! In short, while it’s always good to be informed, your cousin seems to have a point about patients who think they know better than the pros.


None of this means that doctors are infallible or that you should not be able to raise concerns or ask about medication. It’s just that we should keep our doctors’ expertise in mind when we do so. And if we are concerned about a diagnosis or think it might be wrong, we should seek a second opinion from another doctor–not from our friends, family, coworkers, or the internet. In fact, most Americans get a second opinion when their doctor gives them serious advice, and there are plenty of times when you really should do so. You don’t have to put your faith in any one expert, but remember that expertise matters!


“I am a doctor–it’s a profession that may be considered a special mission, a devotion. It calls for involvement, respect, and willingness to help all other people.” — Ewa Kopacz

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