We Are All Doctors

July 21st, 2012 by DCPatient Leave a reply »

Well of course we are not all doctors.  What a ludicrous statement.  Just because I have changed a band-aid, taken a temperature, “diagnosed” a headache and appropriately treated with an acetaminophen, and even clipped an in-grown toe-nail does not make me a healthcare professional.  I do not have the education, training, and experience that would entitle me to be called a doctor, nor would I be able to provide the insights and informed perspective of a doctor.

Yet, in meeting after meeting lately I hear the statement “We are all patients” made to justify people who have not lived with a chronic illness, not been hospitalized, not experienced the fear, confusion, frustration and urgency born from navigating and confronting a serious disease, shaping policy and health system change on behalf of patients.  I believe that this is as ludicrous and dangerous as my attempting to channel the physician perspective without having lived the physician or healthcare professional experience.

I would like to see how far we would get if we tried to put together a panel on “The Physician Perspective on Health Care Reform” with only patients and patient advocates, shrug that we could not find a doctor to speak (They are too busy after all, and we wouldn’t want to put any more burdens on them), or that it was too hard to choose among just one specialty, but excuse our omission because the panelists chosen know doctors, have spoken with them, maybe even did a focus group with doctors so feel perfectly qualified to speak on their behalf.  That clearly would not be tolerated.  So why are we content to go through the charade of  discussing or designing healthcare without including the people most affected by healthcare and with the most knowledge about and incentive to fix the gaps, needs, and impact of healthcare challenges and failures?

I understand the well-meaning attempt to broaden the group of people focused on healthcare issues motivating many who wave the “we are all patients” flag, but there is a difference between having an interest or future stake in a high-quality healthcare system and having the experience that qualifies you to play a meaningful role in shaping that system.  Patients who have earned that experience the hard way should not be devalued or disrespected by lumping them in with everyone who has had an annual physical in the same way a leading neurologist’s expertise would never be compared to someone who watched a documentary on the brain.

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  1. rageahol says:

    I understand this sentiment completely. At the same time, I think that there is an implication that “my pain or difficulty is bigger/worse/more important than yours” which i think is a dangerous and divisive mindset. Are patients with depression less or more important than patients with pancreatic cancer? I find it a bit absurd to try and compare them.

    At the same time, as I said, I understand where this sentiment comes from. patient advocates, whether patients, former patients, or caregivers, spend a great deal of time and energy figuring out how best to advocate for their communities, and saying “we are all patients” does a similar thing, devaluing that effort and making relative-importance claims.

    it may be trite, but my impression is that the most effective (though maddening and difficult much of the time) to deal with this is by making efforts at openness and inclusion, educating in both directions about skills and priorities..

    • DCpatient says:

      Rageahol, thank you for commenting. My point is not to compare pain but to acknowledge that there is a value in patient experience.

      Consider two analogies:
      (1) asking “what do you want from a camera?” to a tourist and a professional photographer
      (2) asking what should the “childcare system offer?” to people without children and parents
      It is worthwhile to get the input from both the experienced and the inexperienced but the responses will differ based on actual needs and level of interaction with the subject.
      The “we are all patients” movement does not provide for this important distinction.