Sunday, October 10, 2021

Trust Me...I'm a Doctor

With the ascent of social media, it seems as if everyone has suddenly become an expert on just about everything, regardless of education or experience.  That's just the way it is in social media: everyone can say what they wish with complete impunity, the only accountability being the possibility of being cancelled or "fact-checked" by yet another entity that's likely even less educated and experienced.

Now that viruses and vaccines have captured the imaginations, fears of America's leisure time, I find the most interesting responses among all sides of the debates to run along the lines of, "What are your qualifications?" or "Can you provide a source for that?" or the ever-famous, "Really? Who made you a doctor?"

It's that last one I enjoy the most, because from where I sit, merely being a doctor doesn't hold nearly the currency it once did. Hear me out on this.  More than likely, I've been around at least as long, if not longer than you, and you might find this interesting.

To really understand what modern doctors are, you have to begin with what doctors once were.  Back in the nineteenth century, western medicine was still mostly guesswork and hardly recognizable as what we know today. In fact, it was only by the late nineteenth century that John D. Rockefeller's University of Chicago help displace homeopathy as America's go-to medical discipline. Prior to that, grandma's remedy or Aunt Hattie's root tonic stood just as good a chance of curing what ailed you as anything else. Since then, however, scientific medicine has ruled the roost. 

But there was a transition period of almost 100 years, where both approaches were considered with a healthy dose of critical thinking, during which a doctor observed, questioned, and then drew conclusions as to how to treat a patient's condition.  The ability of a physician to draw on a broad, diverse library of data, coupled with an extensive knowledge of appropriate treatment resulted in the reverence of doctors as highly knowledgable, well-respected members of society's highest order.

In other words, these were the smartest guys on the block, because they knew what  to think and how  to think.  Not so much anymore.

First, there's simply a lot more to know:  Most doctors are no longer general practitioners. By far, most physicians are specialists, with little real depth outside their fields of expertise. That seems fair, given that there's much more to know about any particular field of medicine than there was previously.  I mean, when you deep dive on liver function, there's not much time left over for pulmonary or cerebral research.

Secondly, the advent of digital media has displaced critical thinking. With every kind of diagnostic test reduced to a numerical score, doctors have become overwhelmingly reliant on numbers instead of observation and reasoning.  This is why the most common refrain in medicine has become, "Let's run some more tests."

Lest you think this is of no real consequence, allow me to illustrate this true story:

Not too long ago, an elderly relative was admitted to the hospital, suffering from wild swings in her blood pressure. The woman had purchased a home blood pressure monitor and throughout the day, noticed it soaring and plummeting so badly that her doctor called her in for "observation and testing."  Two days in, tests showed nothing.  The doctor somberly called me into the hallway and whispered, "I think you should prepare yourself; it could be cancer."

I wasted no time and responded, "Are you out of your mind? Have you considered the fact that she's gone crazy with that home blood pressure kit you advised her to get and all it does is increase her anxiety?" The doctor looked at me and replied, "Hmmm.  Maybe a baby dose of Lexapro would help.'  Yup.  It was that quick.  And it was the right diagnosis, because she's 90 years old today and humming like a well-tuned Chevy.  

Makes you think twice about labeling something a vaccine that actually has no working resemblance to anything like a vaccine.  But you'd have to think critically to want to know that.

The over-reliance on digital numbers, along with a complete lack of critical thinking has reduced the status and ability of doctors to claim their once-respected thrones.  Like airline pilots, who have been reduced to flying bus drivers, today's doctors are pretty much auto mechanics for people.  So the next time someone calls you out for "not being a doctor," don't be insulted.

Consider it a badge of honor.


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