Often I hear comments from people who have been treated for cancer and other illnesses talking about the things they wish they knew, or things they wish their doctors would have shared with them about their treatments or conditions.
I don’t have to remind anyone there is a tremendous amount of anxiety and fear when you are diagnosed with cancer or any other perceived or potentially life-threatening illness.
Our health care system has been changing quickly over the past several years and everyone, patients, physicians, nurses, and other health care providers have been scrambling to keep up and learn the ropes as rules, insurance coverage, government reporting requirements, and technology change.
One of the key qualities that a health care provider needs is resourcefulness. In health care terms, that translates to the ability to know where to find the information, even if the providers themselves do not know the answers.
A resourceful health care provider is willing to learn, listens to both patients and professionals outside of his or her scope of practice, reaches out into the community beyond their immediate circle of professional colleagues trained in the same way, recognizes a patient in need, and knows when to refer that patient to the appropriate resources. Resourcefulness saves time, money, and can reduce a lot of suffering.
The old paternalistic model of doctor knows best is being discarded, albeit slowly in some places. “Do as I say” won’t cut it anymore. Patients are learning to ask questions, get second opinions, and advocate for themselves.
One question you can ask your doctor at the beginning is, “Are you aware of resources in the community that can help us work as a team to achieve the best possible quality of life for me both during and after treatment?”
Doctors are trained based on a medical model. They learn how to apply medicine to diagnose, treat, or cure symptoms and disease. They know how to use available diagnostic technology, drugs and procedures. They are not trained in everything. Just like car mechanics might know how to fix your car, they can’t teach you how to drive, force you to keep up maintenance on your car, or enforce traffic laws.
It is easy to fall back into the old belief that doctors are deified-like creatures with superior knowledge of how to fix everything that goes wrong with your health. That is not a realistic expectation. Doctors are human beings and specialize in certain types of knowledge and application of that knowledge. They have limited time to spend with each patient.
What you can ask of them, is to be more resourceful. You must rely on them to make the time to become informed about what else is out there for patients. Their help in steering you toward these resources accomplishes important things: it saves time for both you and the doctor, and can result in a much better outcome, such as decreased suffering, improved overall well-being, and better quality of life for you, the patient.