Thursday, January 24, 2013

When to Question Your Doctor: A Cautionary Tale

Most people are in awe of physicians.  Medical doctors are smart, well educated, and devote their working lives to helping others.  The least we can do, it would seem, is not to add unnecessary complication to their already-overstressed schedules by disagreeing with them.  The current New England Journal of Medicine has an important article, “SpeakingUp — When Doctors Navigate Medical Hierarchy,” by Ranjana Srivastava of the Monash Medical Center in Australia. 

It turns out that not only patients are intimidated by physicians; doctors are also intimidated by other doctors so that they do not always speak up when they sense that something is wrong.  Medical professionals are especially loath to interrogate those whom they perceive as outranking them in the medical profession’s pecking order.  Srivastava, an oncologist, was unwilling to express her sense of uneasiness about a patient to the surgeon about to operate on him.  Her account of the incident and its consequences is honest and moving.  
The message I took away from this article is this:  if something bothers you, speak up.  Be respectful, ask reasonable questions, but don’t keep silent.  To this I would add:  if the doctor becomes annoyed or brushes your reservations aside, get a second opinion.

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