Health issues can be complicated. Not only the diagnoses can be complex and difficult to understand, but the treatment options can also be overwhelming. This is why an encounter with a physician is extremely important. It can have the effect of making the patient understand fully the condition he or she is going through or, it can have the opposite effect if the encounter is too short or the communication skills are just not there.
The first thing that needs to be understood fully by the patient is the disease process that leads to the situation the patient is on. If the case is cancer, renal failure, or heart failure, there is a unique set of circumstances that led to that situation. What needs to be always remembered is that every person is unique. Everyone of us carries a distinct genetic background and have lived different lives with different nutrition and exercise habits. Unless a person is victim of an accident, the causes for any condition are usually multiple. This is what doctors mean when they use the term “multifactorial”.
In this information era, many people resort to the internet as their source of information. This is the consequence of the internet being readily available, as opposed to a physician, who is usually difficult to find and when found, the encounter might be short and not yielding the expected answers. The internet can be a good source of information, however, there is so much out there that the wrong conclusions can be drawn easily. The other consequence is to make the patient more confused.
The same happens for the treatment options. A long term therapy such as chemotherapy or dialysis should be a process that the doctor and the patient go in (or not go) together, with the doctor providing guidance, not orders. When the patient lacks the right set of information, the decisions made at a given point in time, can lead to expectations that might seem unrealistic in the eyes of the doctor.
For a patient, knowing the disease process and its treatment options are crucial elements for good healthcare outcomes and a good physician-patient relationship. When the point in which either or these elements are not achieved, a second medical opinion can be what is needed to achieve the elements and ensure good healer outcomes and solidify the relationship between the patient and his or her doctor.
Marco A. Ramos MD