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Health February 2018

Hippocratic Oath

By Gary Sprague

I recently had to see a specialist for a couple of issues. The appointment lasted approximately 45 seconds, which is how long it took him to completely ignore everything I told him. You’ve heard of speed dating? I think this was speed doctoring.

Like most people, I’m finding that as I get older I’m visiting the doctor more often. And one thing I’ve come to realize over the past few years is that the American health care system is really, really bad. And anyone who thinks otherwise, well, they should probably see a doctor.

I’ve had three or four primary physicians in the past 30 years. I’ve been lucky, because I’ve liked them all. But lately it seems that physicians have sort of become middlemen. Most of the time they end up sending you to a specialist. Physicians nowadays remind me of traffic cops, pointing people in one direction or another. Doesn’t seem like you’d need a medical degree for that.

And then there are the specialists. I recently had to see a specialist for a couple of issues. The appointment lasted approximately 45 seconds, which is how long it took him to completely ignore everything I told him. You’ve heard of speed dating? I think this was speed doctoring.

I told him I’d decreased my medication about a year ago because it made me light-headed. He then proceeded to prescribe me the original dosage. When I repeated what I’d just told him he said, “Then just take half. Okay? That was easy.” When I mentioned my second issue, he replied, while typing and not even looking at me, “No.” One word. That’s it.

I waited two months for this? Now, I realize that these people go to school a long time, but to be able to give a diagnosis while typing, without even listening to or looking at the patient? Either this guy’s diagnostics skills are out of this world, or he’s a quack. Either way, I wasn’t satisfied.

This is part of the modern Hippocratic Oath: I will remember that there is art to medicine as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy, and understanding may outweigh the surgeon's knife or the chemist's drug. Sounds strange in an era when the most common solution to medical issues is to prescribe pills that may fix one problem but will almost certainly cause another. Most people are nervous and scared when they see a doctor, and a comforting, caring word or two can be as important as any diagnosis. I think that all doctors and surgeons should have to repeat this part of the Hippocratic Oath five times a day, because many of them have obviously forgotten all about it.

In my experience, some specialists and surgeons – certainly not all, but some – have an ego the size of Mount Everest. I really don’t understand why. You have to be very intelligent to be a doctor, without a doubt. But what’s wrong with being intelligent and humble? After all, almost everything these people say and do today will be completely outdated and proven wrong within the next 20 years.

And how about all the errors and misdiagnoses? If any of us made as many mistakes at our job as specialists and surgeons make, we’d be unemployable. They may be intelligent, but you’ve got to be a real idiot to know so little about your chosen field yet still have an inflated ego.

Maybe the problem is with me. I’m pretty old-fashioned. I still like to think of doctors as people who care, who take the time to get to know their patients, not just their medical history but also their personal history. Caregivers who put in the effort to get to the root of a problem, not just prescribe a dangerous drug to mask the symptoms. Long ago, doctors used to make house calls and if you couldn’t afford to pay them, you could give them dinner or eggs from your chickens.

Actually, that last part may have come from an episode of “Little House on the Prairie.” But the point is, doctors used to care about their patients. Now they’re hard pressed to spend five minutes with a patient, with at least half of that time spent typing. Honestly, I’d rather have a kind doctor who spent time treating me like a person instead of a cold-hearted egomaniac who is technically at the top of his or her field. And I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.

But what can we do? Not much. We still need doctors. Many of them are caring, knowledgeable people. As I said, I’ve liked all of my primary care physicians. They don’t make house calls or accept chicken eggs as payment, but they’re still OK.