Mayo Moments

Friday, 28 September 2012

An Open Letter to All Doctors

When a patient complains of chronic pain and illness take them seriously.  When symptoms interfere with their life and keeps them from doing the things they love, believe them. When the effects of it all begins to change who they are, be there for them, listen to them and help them.

A doctor is conduit to knowledge, yes he has the education to interpret that knowledge and the skills to put that knowledge into practice, but when it comes right down to basics, he is the conduit.  He can not look at you and just know what your problem is.  He needs to order tests, perform examinations and gather information before he can make a diagnosis.  If that information gathering is clouded by preconceived notions, assumptions and prejudices then the road to a diagnosis and recovery will be fraught with problems.  Even worse, if fact finding and information gathering is impeded by a lack of empathy or an overabundance of pride, then recovery and wellness will be compromised.

Being a doctor means more than playing God, being right or being the one in charge.  Being a doctor means putting the best interests of your patient first.  It means taking the time to really listen, to get to the bottom of the issue.  It means leaving no stone unturned until you find a way to assist your patient to the highest level of wellness you can.  And if you can't, it means you help them find someone who can. If doing that means you have to admit you don't know everything than so be it.  Pride should not be a factor when searching for a diagnosis - your patient's well being is the only thing that truly matters.

Every patient that walks through your door is unique.  No two patients ever present with the exact same set of symptoms.  The reference ranges listed on lab reports are based on what 95% of the population should fall into.  But that leaves 5% of the population that will fall outside of those ranges.  With a world population of roughly 7 billion people, 5% is a pretty large number.  That means over 350 million people won't fit into the standard result reference range.  Please don't let lab results be your sole method of diagnosis.  

Rare diseases exist.  It's pretty simple, they exist.  Maybe you haven't ever dealt with it, or maybe you have never even heard of it; but that doesn't mean that your patient doesn't have it.  There are 7000 different rare diseases that impact 1 in 10 people.  The Global Genes Project estimates there are some 350 million people worldwide currently affected with a rare disease.  Isn't it interesting how that number pops up again.

Your patients are more than a number, a dollar sign or a set of symptoms.  They are a living, breathing person.  A person who loves and is loved.  A person who is struggling, scared, in pain, confused and so many other things. A person who just wants to be heard, understood and helped.  In the end, your humanity, your empathy and your understanding will do more to assist that patient onto the road to recovery than anything else you can do.  If you put those things first as part of your practice you will be a success as a doctor.