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Our Distrust Of Modern Medicine Is Making Us Sick

We need to protect the public from false or dangerous information.

18/11/2016 5:45 AM AEDT
alexskopje
When we don't trust our doctors, there are serious implications.

I don't really listen to commercial radio in the car. I love audiobooks (it's the only chance I get to 'read') or youth radio (which is the only chance I get to recapture my youth).

But I was in an Uber recently on my way to a work meeting and my driver had a popular commercial radio station playing, with a talkback segment on the notion of recording your conversations with people.

Ethics of secretly recording people aside, one call made me shudder. The caller had secretly recorded her doctor when she'd gone to see them with thoughts of death and dying. She was horrified that this doctor wanted to admit her to hospital and felt betrayed by this so she recorded them.

Even these infamous radio hosts sounded a little perturbed at this. As was I. On reflection, though, it seemed a symptom of a bigger issue.

With the growth of 'wellness' bloggers and quasi-experts of the celebrity persuasion, I am feeling a growing distrust of modern medicine. And you know what? I am getting increasingly worried that it is making us all sicker.

Medicine has a history that is steeped in paternalism both within its ranks and to patients. Many years ago, doctors were revered as gods, omnipotent and infallible. The TV show 'The Knick' is a frightening representation of how medicine used to function. The doctor was always right, the patients did as they were told. The things that we all take as given these days, such as informed consent and patient-centered care, would have been laughed off a hundred years ago. In fact, probably only 50 years ago, the doctor was still the centre of the healthcare universe.

Thankfully, times have changed. But has too much damage been done? Or is it that humans natural curiosity is something that can only be suppressed for so long? Are we all unwilling to defer to someone else's expertise? Is the information age (and misinformation age) contributing to too much unrest and distrust? Whatever the undercurrents, when we don't trust our doctors -- or any other professional for that matter -- that has both positive and negative effects which can have serious implications.

When I was a medical student, we were one of the first groups of students to have a curriculum that was very heavy in teaching the importance of skills such as empathy, shared care and respecting the autonomy of the patient. There are numerous patient advocacy groups who have been instrumental in changing the way we deliver care to people and their families. If this stemmed from distrust or a desire for more autonomy, then that is a wonderful side effect. One that I am proud of as doctor and proud of as a patient.

On the other hand, when we see the rise in refusal of proven treatments in favour of unproven therapy which is potentially dangerous, it's hard to feel positive about that. I have had numerous conversations with patients who don't want treatment that we know will improve their quality of life or maybe even length of life.

As I said, the paternalistic nature of medicine in days gone by has a lot to answer for. Actually a number of professions have that "trust me, I'm an expert" attitude, which most people wouldn't necessarily feel comfortable with in modern times. I know I wouldn't. And that kind of attitude has very little place these days.

We should aim to collaborate and contribute with all stakeholders, whether that be at hospital, in politics, with your lawyer or your architect. Collaboration, rather than dictation, should be the default position. And that should stem from the way we train people in their occupations -- something I think medical schools are getting much better at.

We are also in need of an image overhaul, with the white-coat wearing, omnipotent doctor a thing of the past. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners have a great advertising campaign to show the public the many different faces of GP's and how dedicated they are to the care of their patients, maintaining up-to-date knowledge and being advocates for those they care for. Continued work with patients and patient advocates should carry on to make sure the people who are truly at the core of healthcare get what they want and what they need.

Finally, we need to work out a way to ensure the public is protected from false or dangerous information. Now that is a tall order but it's so important for the health of our populations, individuals, our family members and ourselves. I know healthcare isn't perfect but we do give a damn about you and want the best so let's all work together to make you as healthy as possible.

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