There’s a gap between doctors and patients

(where words apparently go to die)

In my last post, I explained why anyone goes to see a doctor…

When a health condition gets too much in the way of our ability to live our life as we want.

My point there was that people don’t go to doctors for their symptoms, but so they can get back to living their lives. There’s a gap, clearly, between what we and those who come are focused on.

In this post I want to say a bit more on why this gap exists—and a way it can be bridged.

I already hinted at the why in that post, actually. It’s rooted in how we’re trained. Medical training aims to produce doctors proficient at figuring out what’s wrong with the patient (aka, making the diagnosis) and fixing or relieving that with the appropriate treatment. But those treatments sometimes get in the way of people’s lives. You know, the medicine being worse than the sickness, that sort of thing.

Case in point. Growing up, chloroquine (see footnote) was the treatment of choice for malaria fever, and I hated it. Hated, I tell you. And not just because it tasted terrible, or because it made me itch badly—both of those were at least fixable, the taste with a bottle of Fanta, the itch with Piriton. What was not so fixable was its nasty effect on me. It made me feel unwell enough that I never was sure if my symptoms were from the malaria or the medicine. I welcomed the introduction of artesunate combination drugs (my first time taking one was in university) when I found them free of any such effects! (Not everyone has it so good however, so your mileage will obviously vary: some people react badly still.)

You see the disconnect, though?

There’s a HUGE gap between the questions doctors are trained to ask and the questions patients actually want answers to.

Thing is, both kinds matter.

Are we speaking the language of our patients?

Sometimes I have clients who are about to say something and then change their minds.

When I probe, it often turns out that they were reluctant because what they about to say involved a cultural concept or religious belief, and they felt the hospital was not the place.

Hasn’t this ever happened to you with your own doctor? Haven’t you ever held back on stuff on your mind because you felt they wouldn’t understand?

That’s sad, because the person holding back is, mostly, just like me, and wouldn’t have hesitated like that if we were talking at, say, a party.

My being a doctor is what makes me suddenly an outsider.

This is at least a major reason we orthodox medicine practitioners keep being viewed with a suspicion that isn’t accorded to religious leaders and spiritualists, traditional medicine people, and increasingly, the “natural medicine” folks: they, unlike us, are considered insiders.

How does an outsider get in?

Simple. By invitation.

But how do you get invited? Ah, that’s the real issue. That not answerable in a simple one-liner. I can tell you step one, though. When you don’t know how to speak a language (which at its root, is what it means to be an outsider), the next best place you can be in is to be eager to learn it. Show interest in learning the language. That’s a good way to get invited.

To talk about language in any further detail, however, will require a whole other post. Stay tuned for that one. Or just follow me here on Medium. 🙂

If you enjoyed this, please take one moment to hit the little heart (💚).

Footnote: Chloroquine has since being disapproved for malaria by the WHO, although it’s still quite popular in Nigeria for a combination of reasons ranging from ignorance and poverty to bad practice and weak regulations, but that’s another story.

A couple posts related to this…

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Published by Doc Ayomide

I’m a medical doctor with specialty training in psychiatry, and I love thinking and writing about what it means to be human.

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