What We Don’t Understand about Our Healthcare Can Hurt Us

Jan 25, 2017 by

You can have me read this article to you instead of reading it yourself…

Or you can read it the old-fashioned way below…

Have you gone to a doctor’s appointment full of questions and walked away with none of them answered?  Or went into the appointment simply looking forward to tackling one specific item and left without even getting that done?

Better yet, did you have to wait 2-3 months just to get an appointment at all, and then wait a few hours in the office when it finally arrived?

Have you been excited to have a test completed only to be miserable when it’s over?  Or get a prescription for your symptoms, only to find that it causes more problems?

I’m typing these words with so much force that the keyboard sounds like it’s going to snap, and nodding my head so fast that it’s amazing my neck is still holding it up.  How about you?

I wish, for the sake of every other human being, that I was the only person in the world who had these experiences.  But I’m not.  Not even close.  In fact, these examples are just the tip of the iceberg.  And for many people, they will recur over and over again until we reach one or more very undesirable conclusions, such as…

  • My situation is particularly awful
  • I may be untreatable and unfixable
  • Western healthcare is the pits
  • Going to see my doctor is pointless
  • [Any number of other depressing conclusions]


So What Gives?

We all expect our medical system to perform a certain way.  These expectations are all over the place, and they are reinforced and perpetuated everywhere we turn.  They show up on television.  They appear in movies.  They are prevalent in the media when we hear about the miracle or the doctor that made X, Y, and Z happen.

In addition, we just kind of expect a certain level of performance and results from an industry that demands so much money in exchange for “keeping us healthy”.  So we listen to the news, the TV, the movies, and our expectation for return on healthcare investments and go to our doctors, our hospitals, and our clinics.

If you don’t have a chronic condition and your exposure to the doctor has been limited to that last cold you had or that one time you broke your leg, you might actually rave about our healthcare system.  But if you or someone you love has a chronic condition, reading this article is probably making your blood slowly begin to boil.  Because those basic expectations almost NEVER seem to be met.

Great, Thanks for the Reminder.  That was Really Useful.

I promise I didn’t bring you here so that you could be reminded of all of the times that things didn’t go well and all of the things that have gotten under your skin.  Ok, that’s a lie.  I wanted you to remember them, but not because I’m sadistic.  It’s because the only way that I got ahead of the frustration and disappointment and bad conclusions was to reexamine why they kept happening to me.

Was is it possible that I had such specific expectations that I didn’t recognize when they were impossible to meet?  Is it possible that there were moments that seemed off, or times when I considered saying something, but then didn’t?  Did I miss an opportunity to recognize gaps in the system and the possible ways to plug them?


Dang it.

But that’s not fair.  It’s not my responsibility to do their jobs for them.  I’m the patient and they’re supposed to help me, not the other way around.

That’s a fair expectation in any other industry. If I call in a plumber to fix a leak, they’d better as hell not ask for my help finding a fix or I’m kicking them out and getting another one.  If I hire someone to do my taxes, they’d better be able to answer all of my questions and then some.  They’re the experts and I’m paying them for their expertise, not for a bumbling shuffle in an unclear direction.

The difference with healthcare and medicine is that I’m the thing that needs to be mended.  And I’m not a pipe or a number on a piece of paper.  I’m a living, breathing organism with a lifetime of experiences behind me and a jumble of thoughts, needs, concerns, and emotions in my head.  No matter how good a doctor or a hospital is, they can’t extract any of those things from me by running a test or staring into my eyes and down my throat.

Our Expectations are Our Barriers

It turns out that the expectations that we have for our medical system really do prevent us from getting the best care.   They keep us from recognizing the gaps in the system and how we, ourselves, can plug them.

…With Our Doctors

For instance, as a society, we defer to our doctors.  Even when we don’t think what they’re saying is right (yep, you read that correctly).  There have been studies conducted that confirm this finding time and time again.  Whether or not we are aware of it, we approach doctors as separate from us.  We see them as more knowledgeable and more powerful, and we defer to their authority when we are sitting in their offices or hospitals.  We take their words as fact and we do not question what we don’t understand.

Here are some of the mistaken assumptions we have all made:

  • Doctors are not a separate class of beings. They are humans, too.  They make mistakes.  They make assumptions.  And they are not always right.
  • Not all doctors are good listeners, and that is not something that should just be accepted as the status quo. Your doctor cannot properly care for you if he is not listening.
  • Not all doctors are good communicators, and that is also not something that should just be accepted as the status quo. You cannot “follow the doctor’s orders” if you don’t understand them.
  • Most doctors don’t remember you (or at least not the details about you) between visits. They may act like they remember you, because they glanced at your chart before you walked in.  Or maybe you found a good doctor and they really do!  But they aren’t going to remember that question you had about this one medication or this new symptom that was bothering you during your last visit.

…And With Our Hospitals and Clinics

And it doesn’t stop with the expectations that we have of our doctors.  It extends to our expectations for our entire medical system.  Whether from a doctor’s visit, a clinic visit, or a hospital visit, we have expectations that are rarely founded in reality and are almost certain not to be met.

  • Healthcare records are far from perfect. They do not cross over between all institutions; they do not contain every detail related to your care.  If you tried a medication with another doctor, there is a decent chance that this one doesn’t know about it.  If you brought up a side issue at your last appointment, there is a good chance it did not make it to your chart.
  • Healthcare technology is far from perfect and everyone in the medical system knows it. If something feels or sounds wrong to you but no one else points it out, that does not mean that you’re crazy.  It often means that an alert didn’t fire or a cross-check didn’t provide the necessary information.  It’s also quite possible that it was simply overlooked by a busy person.
  • The receptionist, nurse, or physician that you are seeing right now may not have all of the same information as the one that you saw on the last shift (if you are in the hospital), or the one that you saw at your last visit (if you are in the clinic). Documentation is imperfect because it is done by humans.  Whether dictated, written, or typed, information can be missing or impossible to decipher.  You can end up getting the same test or treatment over and over again, for no better reason than because no one but you realizes it’s happening.
  • Pharmacy records do not talk to each other or share information. CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Costco, Safeway – none of them share your prescription information with each other because they are all direct competitors.  As unfortunate as it is, healthcare is a business, and competing businesses don’t like to share.  In addition, none of those places has access to your medical records from your doctor’s office.  Unless you tell your pharmacy something, they don’t know about it.  I don’t care which chain you decide to use, but try to stick with just one, so that all of your records will be available in one place and your risks for interactions and side effects can be properly assessed.

So Now What?

It is only when we begin to realize that we hold our healthcare system to expectations that it is incapable of meeting that we can start to recognize ways to plug the gaps.  If we are able to understand that the assumptions that we make about our doctors and our clinics might be wrong, we can see that an imperfect system exists.

So how is this different than coming to the conclusion that Western medicine is the pits and going to the doctor is pointless?  Western medicine is not a failure.  There’s no doubt it is imperfect.  It has some glaring issues that I very much wish we could fix.

But the largest problem is that it’s currently missing a very important component – you.  You, your expectations, your experiences, your concerns, and your needs are crucial, irreplaceable pieces of the puzzle.  Recognizing that is the first step to changing the repeating cycle of disappointment and frustration.

Join me to discuss some of the reasons that we are crucial to our own care here.  Or learn more about taking the steps to break this cycle here.  You could also leave the site completely, but why would you want to do that?!

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