Are all Doctors Trustworthy?

lucky_20679Common sense is not that common, as the saying goes. The legal system is at least partly to blame. It has evolved into a cult of experts, not that the everyday world doesn’t work in much the same fashion. Many of us tend to trust the “experts” with anything that concerns us before we trust our own intuition and even personal experience. We turn to nutritionists for diet advice, magazines for style, personal trainers for physical well-being, psychologists for mental health, movie critics for advice on whether to spend ten bucks or more on the latest blockbuster film. How many of us even step outside our front doors anymore and actually  gauge the weather ourselves by feeling it to consider how to dress instead of consulting our favorite meteorologist’s predictions on the TV or iPad?

Sure, it’s great to have all this “expert” advice and help in planning our days and lives. But is there no point of diminishing returns as regards “the experts”? Do we not at some point give something up when we take all this advice from “experts”? Can we make any decisions on our own anymore? Can we use our own intuition or creative ability or imagination without consulting one expert or another?

The legal field, too, is run by experts. The court system is run by nothing if not a steady genuflection to experts. Few pharmaceutical cases can be made, for example, without the help of costly experts. It is not enough for you or someone you love to have suffered a stroke or heart attack while taking drug X. Your attorney in a drug case needs to enlist experts who can examine studies and statistics that can show that the health records of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of people were examined to arrive at the conclusion that drug X caused more problems than it solved, that its cost-benefit ratio wasn’t worth four bucks a pill, or that its risk of deadly side effects was greater than that which the drug maker revealed upon promotion of the drug.

Of all the experts on whom we most depend, doctors are probably the most important. Doctors are the No. 1 expert most of us turn to for health concerns. But are all doctors “expert”? We’ve all heard the phrase, “Trust your doctor.” Can we always trust our own doctor to make the best possible decision(s) concerning our health? Are all doctors trustworthy?

“Trust Me, I’m a Doctor” was a TV program aired on BBC. It examined the state of health care in Britain with factual reporting and satire. Dr. Phil Hammond presented the series from 1997-99.  A book by Hammond complemented the series. Doctors are not infallible, was the message, and one would be wise to learn as much about one’s healthcare as possible.

Thanks to Hammond and others, it has now become a running gag to say, “Trust me. I’m a doctor.”  Josef Mengele was a doctor. Was he trustworthy by virtue of his title?

Dollars for Docs

Today, in the information era, you can check out Dollars for Docs at Propublica.org to see if your own doctor may have some conflicts of interest as regards his or her drug prescription choices. Money obviously poisons politics; so who’s to say it doesn’t also have some impact on a doctor’s choice of prescriptions or medical treatments?

AMA advertised Cigarettes

The official publication of the AMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) accepted cigarette ads long after the science became clear that cigarettes cause cancer. The AMA saw the science, too, but either chose to ignore it, or used cognitive dissonance to imagine it wasn’t good science. Many doctors promoted cigarettes for years when common sense might have told anyone that sucking smoke and a long list of toxic chemicals deep into the lungs was not a good idea.

It’s worth pointing out that doctors aren’t always right. Doctors also helped promote margarine as an improvement over butter, and we all know how that turned out.

Edward Bernays, a nephew of Sigmund Freud, also helped promote cigarettes. He was very good at his job. Barnays once explained, “[Y]ou can get practically any idea accepted if doctors are in favour. The public is willing to accept it because a doctor is an authority to most people, regardless of how much he knows or doesn’t know” (Bryson 2004).

Maybe we need to think twice the next time somebody says, “Trust me. I’m a doctor.” Given that many “experts,” including doctors, are paid for their opinions and sometimes have vested interests in the opinions they put forth, we probably need to refresh a little trust in ourselves in our seemingly endless genuflection to experts, whether in the health or legal field or any other.

Trust yourself, oh ye of little faith.

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