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Why I'd trust an expert patient more than a doctor

Posted Apr 19 2011 11:02pm
This may be a terrible confession for a doctor to make, but when I have a medical problem, I'd trust an expert patient rather than a doctor. Let me explain.

I have chronic back pain and this can be quite severe at times. However, I am very reluctant to go to an orthopedic surgeon, because I know pretty much what he is going to say. He's going to do a cursory examination and then ask me do do a MRI scan. The MRI scan will find some bulges in my intervertebral discs - and the radiologist will happily report this as prolapsed intervertebral disk ( slipped disc, in layman's terms). The doctor will be happy he's made the right diagnosis; and will advise bed rest; pain-killers ; and physiotherapy - with the caveat that if it gets worse, he'll be happy to do "minimally invasive surgery" to fix the problem.

This is the standard medical paradigm for managing back pain - and while it's completely reasonable ( and follows medical textbook advise) , it's does not add to the quality of my life. I want to continue playing tennis daily - and want advise on how to manage my back pain without having to stop my tennis ! This is not something most orthopedic surgeons know much about, because they spend more time in the Operating Room than on the tennis court !

I'd much rather talk to a tennis player who has had back pain for many years, and ask him how he's managed it. He is the true expert on my problem and I'd be happy to learn from him. For one, his advise would be much more applicable to my problem - and for another, he has no hidden agenda !

Of course, not every patient is an expert patient. I want someone who's smart, well-read and well-informed - and who has taken the time and trouble to explore his options. ( If he also happens to be a doctor, that's an additional bonus !)

While doctors are good at making the right diagnosis, how to live with the disease ( how to manage what medical textbooks call "activities of daily living" ) is something patients can learn much better from other patients. This is not an area in which doctors are well-informed , because it's not something which interests them !

Really smart doctors will refer their newly diagnosed patients to other expert patients , to help them cope better with their illness !
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