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Feeling unwell? Reading is half the battle won
Dr Aniruddh Malpani
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April 07, 2008

Sometimes patients ask me: "Doctor, if I am paying the fees to see the top specialist, who presumably knows everything there is to know about my medical problem, then why do I need to take the time and trouble to inform and educate myself? Can't I leave everything upto him?"

I agree it's much easier to do this. When you are ill, the last thing you want to do is "homework" about your problem. You'd rather conserve your energies in getting better than in researching your problem -- and isn't that what you are paying your doctor for? Why duplicate his efforts? There are also the unexpressed fears that:

Unfortunately, ignorance isn't always bliss! While your doctor maybe a medical expert and may know a lot about your disease, you are the expert on yourself!


He cannot read your mind or figure out what your preferences are, unless you tell him. Yes, this does involve doing some work -- but it's a worthwhile investment of your time and energy.


This decision is too important to outsource to someone else -- no matter who the other person is, and how much you trust him/her.

In fact, a well-informed patient and a well-informed doctor play a complementary role. It's not antagonistic -- after all, you are both on the same side!

What strengths does the doctor bring to this partnership? Most of these are obvious.
He has

However, every doctor does have certain weaknesses, which you need to be aware of.
He may:

As a patient, you have certain limitations too.

However, you do have a lot of valuable inputs to provide. What are your strengths and what can you do optimise your role?

Decision making is the most important skill in medicine -- and while your doctor can lay out all your options, only you can decide which option is the best for you, based on your personality, philosophy and background.


There are always going to be multiple choices and because it's such a complex process, how can the doctor possibly know what is best suited to your particular needs? The answers to all these questions are very personal and individual, which is why your inputs are so important.

In any medical encounter, there are four possibilities.

1. Poorly informed doctor and poorly informed patient. I think this is true of the vast majority of medical encounters, but because most medical problems are self-limited and get better on their own, it does not adversely affect the outcome most of the time.

2. Well informed doctor and poorly informed patient. This is a very common scenario, when the patient leaves everything up to the doctor and allows him/her to decide. Fortunately, since most doctors are competent and professional, the outcome in this situation is usually quite good for most patients.

3. Poorly informed doctor and well-informed patient. This is becoming increasingly common. Many patients are now very well-read; and know a lot about their options. They will often make the decisions for themselves -- and get their doctors to endorse these. While some doctors are happy to oblige, others may take offense at this role-reversal.

4. Well-informed doctor and well-informed patient. This is the best combination. While it does not happen too often, when it does, the doctor-patient relationship becomes a work of art -- and is gratifying for both doctor and patient!

For most common medical problems, the outcome is likely to be good, no matter which of equations you fall into. However, you can never be sure that your doctor is truly well-informed. This is why you need to make sure you take charge of your health, so you craft a winning partnership!


The writer is a staunch advocate for 'Information Democracy' and empowerment of the healthcare consumer. He runs a library named HELP (Health Education Library for People) which has over 2000 books on healthcare and can be accessed by anyone for free.

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