Doctor, Doctor Give Me the News

After reading “The Empowered Patient” by Elizabeth Cohen, I felt drained and angry. Mrs. Cohen is a CNN correspondent who has written about healthcare—the good, the bad and the downright ugly—since 2007. She has compiled her stories into a recently released book that seemingly puts the medical establishment in its place and on notice. She shares her own story in the introduction that helps the reader understand why she chose to lead this crusade. Her story about the care her newborn daughter received was frightening and would make any of us angry that this could occur.

The book encourages us not to be a “good patient”—we shouldn’t worry about what our physician thinks of us, or of sounding stupid in front of our physician. We should ask  and seek a second opinion, if we’re not getting the answers we need or our health doesn’t seem to improve. She recommends there comes a time when we should fire ‘Dr. Wrong’ and look for ‘Dr. Right.’ She regales us with stories of real patients that received the wrong diagnosis and had to become their own ‘medical detective.’ In the interests of fairness, the author also tells us how to take on insurance companies and not fall for the latest medical marketing by pharmaceutical conglomerates. When you finish the book you’ll feel like lighting your own torch and chasing the Frankenstein of poor healthcare to the marshes.

As I read the patient’s stories I was looking to find alternative, very rational explanations—okay, excuses frankly—for what they perceived as a grievance. After all, one would think that thirty years of working in healthcare would give me a unique perspective on all that goes right and that some authors, like Ms. Cohen, choose to dramatize what goes wrong, or looks for what sells.

Certainly things go right in healthcare. But there is clearly a perception that we have missed the mark in providing specifically what patient’s are looking for. The healthcare system has become just that—a system. Without our physician, who is looking out for us, we’re cast adrift in a sea of medical of increasing complexity. We turn to the internet for our healthcare because we seek answers, or hope of finding reassurance, that what we have is normal and will improve with time.

What’s happened is that our physician’s time becomes sliced and diced by a system gone wild with faxes, phone calls, meetings and other things that offer absolutely nothing of value to patients. As patients, we’re mostly unaware of these constraints on our physician’s time. We just know that our needs are often unmet. Many of us imagine and hope for a world where timely, correct and completely safe heath care is readily available. Unfortunately it seems for now that becoming an “empowered patient” is the only recourse for obtaining medical justice. But this new empowerment still leaves us alone and adrift when what we need is the anchor of our uninterrupted physician’s time and attention, always standing with us providing care and advice to help us lead the full life we deserve.

About Steve P. Sanders

A general internist writing and sharing ideas and art.


  1. The Positive WebSite - September 10, 2010

    Positiveness by Tony Alessandra…

    I found your post very interesting thus I’ve added a Trackback to it on my weblog :)…

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