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The Doctor’s Word Isn’t Law WHY PAT I E NTS N E E D TO BR E AK UP W I TH B L I ND FA I TH
Not long ago, a new patient came in who was struggling with diabetes. He was formerly in the military, but you wouldn’t have known that by looking at him. The diabetes was ruining his overall health, causing nerve pain and making him gain weight. “I know I look bad,” he said when we sat down to talk. “But everything is fine. My doctor says my numbers are great!”
“When patients let doctors fall back on a treatment plan of “Take these pills every day for the rest of your life,” their quality of life will always diminish in the long run.”
This isn’t the first time someone has reassured me their numbers are great, so I asked him, “Are you taking medication?”
Medications can certainly help someone who faces a serious health risk, but patients should make sure their doctor is taking into consideration how their lifestyle might be impacting their condition. When a patient comes to the doctor while they are on their medication, of course the numbers will come up positive when the doctor runs their test. That’s what the medication is supposed to do. But those are fake numbers! If the patient stops taking their medication, they are going to feel terrible again, because the doctor hasn’t given them any instructions on how to get better. Nothing good comes from relinquishing control of your health to someone else, no matter how many letters they have behind their name. This includes me, too! When I talk to patients about the treatment I recommend, I don’t want them to trust me unquestioningly on blind faith. I want them to speak up if they feel some strategy might not be the best for them and ask questions if they don’t understand. When starting a new treatment, patients shouldn’t think, “I’m doing this because the doctor told me to.” They should be able to say, “I’m doing this because it makes sense and I know how it will help me get better permanently.” One day, we will all meet our maker. I believe until that day comes, we should do what we can to live better and not just longer. I mean, we already have to pay taxes. Why cause ourselves even more pain on top of that?
“What would happen if you stopped taking your medication?”
“I guess my numbers would go back up.”
“Then are you sure everything is really fine?”
I see a trend these days that I find deeply troubling: Patients trust their doctors too much. I understand why this is the status quo. Doctors are “the experts,” and when a person feels terrible, they want to believe their expert knows exactly the right answer that will help them. But it’s not wise to put all your faith in a doctor while ignoring your own body. What people don’t realize is that they need to be in charge of their health more than anyone else. They say the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. With Tax Day in April, we are reminded of how true the latter is, but thanks to medical and technological advancements, the former guarantee feels farther away. People are living longer, but they aren’t necessarily living better. Too often, people are able to live until they are 90 or even 100 years old, but the last decades of their life are spent in pain. Quantity of life should not be prioritized over quality of life. When patients let doctors fall back on a treatment plan of “Take these pills every day for the rest of your life,” their quality of life will always diminish in the long run.
–Dr. Bao Tha i
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