This weekend I attended a conference on COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). I was grateful to the coordinators for putting on such a diverse and professional program for those facing this great health challenge. I went because most of my background is in infectious disease, oncology and Alzheimer’s. My mother-in-law was diagnosed with COPD almost two years ago so getting the most up-to-date information is crucial.
The end of the day gave us, the participants, to select on of three breakout sessions. I attended the session on sleep apnea. The physician giving the talk was terrific. He gave great examples, was patient with the audience members, was clear and didn’t try to impress us with big words we may not care about. I felt that he truly was delivering information we needed to hear. Dr. Teofilo Lee-Chiong from National Jewish Health was trying to give us the information we needed to be able to converse as a more informed patient.
As I said the doctor was answering questions throughout the presentation and then a few questions in a row really stunned me. Audience members began asking the doctor questions based on information they were given by their own physicians. Dr. Lee-Chiong would say things like, “that’s not true”, “you can’t determine that information from the screening your describing”. I was predicting a huge number of calls to doctor’s offices on Monday morning asking their doctors about the information they acquired. So I ask you this, who’s right?
I believe in going to the expert. I feel more confident getting information from someone who is in the trenches every day, conducting research, concentrating on a particular issue (in this case sleep apnea) and someone who has interaction with a high number of patients requiring that expertise. Unfortunately, unless we’re in need of a specialist, most of us see doctors that aren’t fully equipped to handle the complexities of issues like sleep apnea. Before Internists were Internists (requiring a residency and passing Internal Medicine Boards) they were often classified as General Practitioners (GPs). I personally want the expert. I don’t want the doctors to guess. I want the information that is current. Why were so many audience members given wrong information? Was Dr. Lee-Chiong wrong? How are we supposed to figure it all out?
Interview your doctors. Don’t just pick their name from a book. Get recommendations! See what specialized training they have. If you’re going to a teaching hospital ask the doctor if they’ve done research and could you see a copy of the study. Things change so rapidly and so frequently that keeping on top of information is overwhelming. That being said, doctors should give us the courtesy and respect to either pass along to someone who has the correct answers or at least say they will consult with someone before giving explanations for things that aren’t correct. It diminishes our trust and faith in the doctors ability and skill. I don’t know about you, but when I’m in need of medical care I want someone I trust that they know what they’re talking about.
What do you do when you get conflicting medical information? How have you handled the opposing views? What have you done to get doctors to speak to you as someone with a brain?