YOU & YOUR DOC: Partners in Health

By Steven T. Padgitt, Ph.D.

There was a time, in the not so distant past, when there were more general practitioner physicians than specialists. It was a time when the doctors seemed to know all there was to know about our health and we listened to them in a dependent and nearly magical way, with unrealistic expectations about their power to heal us. Then there came an explosion in medical advancements, as developments in technology were linked with medical research, and the age of specialization took hold. In this era more and more details about repairing our injuries and curing our diseases were discovered and the medical field's learning curve moved to rapidly slope upward.

The extent of medical knowledge has grown immensely over the past fifty years. Despite these advances, the American public reputedly has become less enchanted with doctors. The media may be, to some extent, responsible for the bad press American doctors receive, but it appears that there is another explanation that goes further to help us understand these mixed reviews.

During the first half of this century, when medicine was coming into it's own and developing a stronghold of respect, we were taught to expect a certain kind of relationship with our doctor. The weekly television program, Marcus Welby, M.D. for example, depicted both the caring and the paternal kind of physician Americans could depend upon. Simultaneously it illustrated the kind of patient-physician relationship many Americans felt they had with their doctor. The era of that sort of medicine seems to have passed with the escalation in medical knowledge and procedure, the increase in specialization, the progress in mass media, and the ushering in of the Information Age.

For a multitude of reasons doctors have more pressure to perform than they have had in past decades. They are busier than ever maintaining high case loads and meeting the demand of continuously mastering the ever increasing medical knowledge base. This may leave them less able to recall specific details regarding each individual patients and the relationships with their patients may suffer as a result. For example, I have heard patients complain that their physician doesn't care about them due to a lack of detail recall. The public's learned dependency on doctors, in conjunction with the increased pressure on physicians, may leave the patient disappointed or even resentful.

Attributions of this kind suggest unrealistic patient dependency upon the physician. This can result in disappointment and feelings of resentment. We must make a shift from dependency on, to partnership with, our doctors. It is important that we learn to participate in taking responsibility for our own health and use our physicians as experts who can both treat our ills and help us monitor our health and well being. While this shift appears to be taking place with many people, it is worth emphasizing since it appears to be a part of necessary social change within the context of the client's/patient's role with any professional expert. We must assist our doctor by considering ourselves to be in partnership concerning responsibility for our health. For example, knowing and stating the details regarding the drugs we are taking can insure that our doctor knows what s/he needs in order to provide us with the best possible treatment.