Should You Rely on Your Doctor?

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We gave our neighbor Sylvie a ride to her doctor. In the car, the talk turned to medicines. Sylvie said she was on seven or eight drugs. She didn’t remember what they were all for, but said, “I leave that up to my doctor.”

I’m scared for Sylvie. She has high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and asthma. She’s a wonderful person, but she has a tough life, with custody of her young grandchildren and a part-time job. I can see why she might rely on her doctor to make all health decisions, but in my experience, that plan usually runs into trouble.

Her medicines could have side effects or interactions she doesn’t know about. And we have no way of knowing whether her doctor (actually doctors — she has three) know what they are doing, or what the others are doing. Does one even know what the other is prescribing?

I’ve been a nurse for almost 40 years. You kind of see the rough side of medicine when you work in a med/surg unit. I used to not trust doctors at all, but now I take them on a case-by-case basis. Some are wonderful. But still I would never rely on any doctor completely. Would you?

Why I don’t think you should put all your trust in medical professionals: Doctors miss things. They are human. They really don’t have time to know their patients well, so they put us into categories by illness or demographics. Most of them treat diseases, not people. They tend to think drugs are the answer to everything.

Some are too reluctant to share information. Why are you ordering this drug? What does this lab result mean? They don’t always tell you, so you have to trust them.

Also, medicine has become so complicated, with so much new information coming out every year, that no doctor could possibly keep up with it. Only the narrowest specialist can even keep up with developments in his own field. A general practice doctor, or even an endocrinologist, has way too much to think about.

Your doctor might have 2000 patients. You only have to worry about one case, your own. So for me, it’s important to inform yourself and make your own decisions as far as possible. You need to have a care team, and you need to be the captain. Your doctor can be like the star quarterback, but you are still the coach.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say. I’m a lifelong nurse, and now I’m a researcher and writer. I know how to find things out, and I can usually understand the language. If a paper is over my head, I have time to learn it. That’s one of the lovely things about this job: learning new things and sharing them with readers.

Our friend Sylvie has none of those advantages. She doesn’t know how to search the Internet, and she doesn’t read all that well anyway. Plus she’s so busy with child care and housework that there’s no time or energy for informing herself.

So what can she do? I’m guessing most Diabetes Self-Management readers are more informed than the average person, but where do you fall on that scale? How much do you find out for yourself, and how often do you just go along with your doctor? Do you even want to know the science behind the doctor’s orders, or is that not your problem?

The best thing is to have a good relationship with your doctor. If he shares information with you, if he checks in with you about the prescribed therapy, you’ll probably have better results. If you come in with an idea like starting an herb, reducing a medicine, or going low-carb, it would be nice to have a professional to discuss it with. Does your doctor do those things? How do you help him communicate with you?

It’s also good that we have the Internet now to check on things. I wouldn’t take the word of one individual poster on a Web site, but if you see the same advice in different places, it’s at least worth thinking about. Almost anything can be researched on the ’net if you take the time to learn.

But again, that advice applies to people who are somewhat educated, have Internet access, and some time to research. Others might be forced to go along with their doctors’ plan. Even then, you can improve your relationship with your doctors. We gave some strategies for working with doctors here and here.

So how much do you rely on your doctor? Are you comfortable with that? How is it working out?

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