Oct 22, 2009

How To Speak Doctor

Question from a reader:

My heart sinks when I realize the vast difference between a detailed medical appreciation of my disease and the incredibly simplified version my doctors tell me. Do doctors feel like they are speaking baby talk to patients? Do patients ever really understand our illnesses, tests, and treatments?
First of all, any doctor who implies they have a full understanding of your body is bullshitting you! Some specialists may know a little more about a particular organ or disease, but in the end your body is a mystery and doctors are all just making educated guesses. Doctors know some useful things, but things we don't understand far outnumber the things we do.

Patients are nervous about doctors working with limited knowledge, so MDs learn to sound more knowledgeable than we really are. One of the easiest ways to sound really knowledgeable is to use a lot of technical jargon. We can really impress non-medical people by throwing out some dense multi-syllabic pseudo-Latin with a lot of acronyms mixed in. It just sounds so darn smart!

Doctors are also used to talking with each other in medical jargon and sometimes forget that patients have no idea what the heck these words mean. It's not that "MI" or "Raynaud's phenomenon" are too difficult to for you comprehend; it's just that they sound really complicated if you don't speak Physician.

If a doctor says something that makes no sense the best strategy is to frankly ask, "What does that mean?" When it comes to understanding your prognosis or making a decision it is important that you understand what is being discussed.

A wise teacher once told Doctor D, "If you think you understand something, but you can't explain it in a simple way you probably don't really understand it." This is true for medical knowledge. Your doctor should be able to explain these things in plain English when you ask for it.

Listening to a simple explanation in plain words it may become obvious that your physician doesn't fully understand everything either. Don't panic! We don't have to understand everything about a body or a disease to treat it well. We may not be good talkers, but we are great guessers!
Have you ever had a doctor that just couldn't speak simple English to explain your condition? Doctor D would love to hear your stories in the comments.

1 comment:

Helen said...

My cardiologists have all been very good at saying "we don't understand all of what's happening here, and even if we continue to work at it, we might never know everything." Now my job is to accept that, which has been much harder than I would have expected. I'm grateful for their honesty, though, and even more so after reading this.

The only time I've ever been made to feel stupid was during an ICD interrogation. I wanted to know about the differences, in terms of information-gathering, between a holter monitor and my ICD. The doctor and nurse looked at each other and laughed, and then instead of answering me, asked, "Why do you want to know?" Luckily, they were just two jerks among a whole host of really great nurses and docs.

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