Doctors know a lot. They spend an incredible number of years in school, and even more years training afterward. There’s no doubt that doctors know more about an awful lot of medical-related things. However, there’s one big secret Big Medicine doesn’t like to admit:
Doctors don’t know everything. And sometimes, they’re not informed as we, the patients are.
It’s not their fault, really. Most doctors are generalists—they’re expected to know a little bit about a lot of problems, but they don’t specialize in any one area. There are thousands of different diseases and medical problems out there. There’s just no way one person can possibly be familiar with all of them. Even specialists face the same kind of problem; there’s only so much information any one person can hold in their head at a given time. Sometimes, just like us, they have to look things up.
Even when it comes to common issues like diabetes and heart disease, what doctors know sometimes lags behind. There are only so many hours in the day, after all. They do have lives outside of work—families and friends and everything else. They don’t live at their offices. And with hundreds of studies coming out each month, they may or may not be up on the latest research.
You, on the other hand, don’t need to know the facts about thousands of different conditions. You only need to know about one or two—the ones that affect you. You can take your time and focus on the issues that are most important personally. You can dig into research with single-minded focus and a dedication that most practicing doctors simply don’t have time to give even if they want to.
You can also explore areas that doctors tend to shy away from professionally. But first and foremost, you know what it’s like to actually experience the issue you’re being seen for. All this means that sometimes, and on some subjects, you just might know more than the doctor does.
Your doctor probably knows less about nutrition than you do
If you’re looking for nutritional advice ask a nutritionist, not your doctor. Even if the topic is eating to control diabetes or reduce heart disease, your doctor is probably clueless. Doctors simply aren’t taught much about nutrition. Most medical schools only offer a token nutrition class—the equivalent of a single college course.
Instead, doctors are taught that drugs and surgery trump nutrition and lifestyle treatments. They have no incentive to learn otherwise. And they’re quietly discouraged from learning anything else by the rest of the profession. Unless you’re very lucky, your doctor probably thinks the USDA “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” are actually a healthy eating guide.
You’re the expert on your own medication side effects
Doctors tend to dismiss side effects. They tell us they’re “all in our heads.” They call them coincidence. Sometimes they simply ignore our complaints. Drugs are doctors’ stock in trade, the tools they’re taught to use. No one wants to hear that the tools they depend on are ineffective or, worse yet, harmful. Instead they’ll do whatever they can to avoid acknowledging that we have legitimate complaints.
The fact is, you’re the one who lives in your body. You know what’s normal and what’s not, and you’re in a better position than anyone to judge if a drug is affecting you adversely. And you deserve to have your concerns listened to and dealt with.
You probably know more about complementary medicine than your doctor
The argument against “alternative” medicine is usually, “We need more research.” This is trotted out even when there are decades worth of research. The sad fact is that studies on complementary treatments aren’t publicized like drug studies. Big Pharma and Big Medicine don’t make money from them, so alternatives don’t make headline news or the front pages of the medical journals. And that means doctors are often simply unaware of the research backing up alternative treatments, no matter how strong it is.
The other argument is simply, “Alternative medicine doesn’t work. That’s why it’s ‘alternative.’” To me, this is akin to saying “Because I said so!” to your kids. Some don’t work, true. But some do. And you know what alternative treatments that do work are called in the end? Mainstream medicine. The truth is that some of the most effective tools in medicine’s toolkit were once considered “alternative.” Now they’re mainstream.
You know your body better than your doctor does
Like side effects, symptoms that don’t fit the “standard picture” are often dismissed. Countless people are told that their very real symptoms are imaginary. Or that they’re unimportant. Or that they have nothing to do with the health problem at hand—simply because they don’t fit inside the box. For example, it took years before medicine finally realized that women often have different heart attack and stroke symptoms than men do. And people are told every day that statins don’t cause severe muscle pain, in spite of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Here’s the thing: You know your body better than anyone. You know when something doesn’t feel right, and your doctor should listen to you, not minimize what you have to say.
You might be more up-to-date on research than your doctor is
Even the best, most caring doctors may not be up on the most current research. Seeking out journal articles, reading them, and processing them takes time—as you know if you’ve spent time researching a condition yourself. Even the most informed doctor has a finite amount of time, and a great many different diseases to keep up-to-date on. So if you read every study pertaining to your condition when it comes out, you may very well be more informed than your doctor.
They don’t know everything, no matter what Big Medicine would like us to think. Medicine should be a partnership, where the doctor is as willing to listen as to give treatment advice. You can foster that kind of relationship by remembering a few key things:
- You’re the expert on your own body. Your doctor should be open to listening to your concerns about side effects or unusual symptoms. A good way to start the conversation is with, “I’m concerned because…”
- Your doctor may be open to ideas about nutrition and complementary medicine…if you present it in the right way. If you’re going to bring up the topic, it helps to have a reputable source or valid study on hand. You might say, “I read about an interesting study in [reputable journal] the other day that said…” followed by asking for their opinion.
- Last but not least, if your doctor isn’t willing to give your concerns his attention, it might be time to find another doctor. The doctor’s job isn’t to “make you well,” it’s to help you make yourself well. And that’s a relationship that takes two.