Time and time again I see friends and family religiously follow their health practitioners’ advice – no questions asked. Many times, I see how what they do will result in little or no benefit for them, and in some cases could even make the situation worse.
In theory, they are just being good patients, which many health practitioners will say aren’t easy to come by. The problem is, the doctor isn’t always right, and regardless of that fact, patients still do what they are told. It happens more often that you would think.
For me, a good patient isn’t the one who follows doctor’s orders to the tee. It’s the patient who educates him or herself and is able to challenge what the doctor says when he or she doesn’t agree.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking questions about what the doctor is recommending.
Let’s take a look at a common example.
You get a blood test and your doctor finds you have high cholesterol. Immediately, she tells you that, in addition to taking a pill to lower your cholesterol, you also have to eliminate all fats from your diet, or at least as much as possible.
So you do what you can, and begrudgingly throw out everything from butter to red meat to olive oil.
There is a big problem with this not-so-uncommon picture. Not all fats are the same. Some fats, like olive oil, actually help to lower high cholesterol. Also, recent research shows that even saturated fats may not have as big of an influence on cholesterol as we had originally thought. The doctor who prescribed this regimen has stuck by outdated knowledge about how your diet can affect your health.
Of course, this doctor didn’t tell you that. And now you have made a huge change in your diet that may have even made your cholesterol worse.
You have to be your biggest champion, no questions asked.
Do research, ask for second and third opinions, and don’t worry about challenging the health practitioner. Whether a family doctor, nutritionist, or physical therapist, they all have their limitations of knowledge, and they have to be willing to have a discussion with their patients, and even learn something from them.
Don’t get me wrong – there are some very good health practitioners out there who are aware of their limitations, do all that they can to keep up with the latest research, and who aren’t afraid to refer patients to professionals when their knowledge has reached a limit.
Make sure your physician or registered dietician is one of these guys. Never assume that because he has a big fancy diploma on his wall that his knowledge is the ultimate truth.
Beyond that, though, it is our responsibility as patients to question, to research, and to be champions of our own wellbeing.