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When Docs Get Annoyed At Empowered Patients

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When Docs Get Annoyed At Empowered Patients

I felt my ire rise when I read this article on CNN about how patients are giving their doctors headaches. Apparently, this video entitled “The Patient Who Knows Too Much,” which is part of a training program aimed at doctors to help them deal with “difficult patients,” has caused quite a stir.

Elizabeth Cohen, my friend and Senior Medical Correspondent at CNN writes about a fictitious patient named “Will,” who is represented by a nerdy looking avatar holding a laptop computer, peppering his doctor with questions and information he has learned online about his disease. She writes:

In the presentation, three doctors comment on the challenges Will poses.

“They consider themselves an expert yet often their true medical knowledge is quite limited,” says Dr. Joseph Scherger, vice president for primary care at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California, who says patients like Will are “indiscriminate” about the material they read online.

“Patients who present their expertise as telling you how to practice medicine are implicitly discounting your expertise,” adds Leonard Haas, a psychologist at University of Utah School of Medicine.

“Sometimes these patients are very overweight. They’re out of shape,” Scherger adds. “They’re on the Internet all the time.”

When I read this, my blood started to boil and I had to do a little loving kindness meditation aimed at doctors to calm myself down. So I’m about to rant, but hopefully I’ll be more loving than I would have been a few minutes ago.

You’ve been properly warned.

How Dare They?

Even the title of that video is condescending - the patient who knows too much. After all, how can an empowered patient know too much?

As a physician, I know EXACTLY what kind of patient these doctors are talking about. They show up with ten pages of info they’ve downloaded off the internet, and some of it is from sites of questionable repute, often bordering on, or flat out stepping plainly into, propaganda.

When you’ve got ten minutes with the patient, as the physician, you may feel frustrated having to read, interpret, and explain what they’ve downloaded, especially if it goes against the treatment plan you’ve carefully crafted.

But That’s Your Job, Doc

I’m sorry. No offense, docs. But this is our JOB. We are teachers, healers, educators. It is our JOB to help our patients navigate their medical decisions with compassion, patience, and an open mind.

Our patients know their bodies better than we will ever know. We may have gone to school for a decade to learn about the human body, but we do not live in the body of our patients. Only they have the power to tap into their intuition and know what is best for them. And we are thwarting the process if we get in the way of that self-healing process.

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at and also created two online communities - and She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


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11:51PM PDT on May 22, 2012

Foot doctors in dallas tx thinks this is true.

10:59AM PDT on Aug 26, 2011

Interesting reading.

9:19AM PDT on Aug 7, 2011

Thanks for this excellent article on a very important topic. It is critical that we be informed about our own bodies and health issues. The internet can be an invaluable source of helpful information. Without this knowledge, how will you know what questions to ask? How will you know about various alternative treatments available other than the options your doctor may offer? How will you really know what the side effects of treatments he/she recommends are?
Any decent doctor should be happy to have patients who are aware and intelligent. Some studies indicate that patients who are more "difficult" initially tend to be much more diligent than average when it comes to following a course of treatment once they've decided it's right for them.
Even if you like and trust your doctor, getting a 2nd and 3rd opinion, as well as at least one or two opinions from licensed alternative practitioners (acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy) is always a good idea. Also, if your situation isn't an emergency, take a bit of time to catch your breath and calm down before making a decision as to your treatment. I did this regarding a periodontal condition a few years back. This one nutcase of a periodontist told me I needed braces, bone grafting, and major gum surgery. I was able to completely reverse my condition using a totally natural method ( No surgery needed! The new dentist I went to could barely believe the results.

10:12PM PDT on Jul 27, 2011

I think the fact that patients come see doctors with all their research papers ready means that they at least trust them enough to get their opinion. They're not trying to go against the doctors, but to learn from them and to get an opinion from a professional. The doctors who get these 'empowered' patients should be proud to have someone who is interested in healing in the best proper way for them.

7:43PM PDT on Jul 27, 2011

Hi All -
I don't know how to put this out there but I believe that the care2 petition titled 'Support Truth and Transparency in Health Care' form the AMA patient group is actually helping to create a legislative attack on the alternative health care system.

My family knows when to go to a 'regular doctor and when not to. When to get the diagnostic and go to others for the actual treatment.I have yet to meet an AMA doc who is has much education in nutrition which is of course the foundation to health.
I am the mother of 3 kids and have had THREE family members who successfully treated their cancers through alternative means - which has been made illegal in this county . . . Also just 4 years ago there were numerous midwifes schools and now thanks to the AMA there are only a handful. The AMA's attacks on our access to alternative ways of healing are both vicious well funded and coordinated.

I urge people please don't sign 'Support Truth and Transparency in Health Care' as it has all the hallmarks of being very linked to another attack on alternative health care providers.

6:31AM PDT on Jul 21, 2011

Oh my god, thank you for writing this. Seriously, thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.

3:16AM PDT on Jul 21, 2011

Well, crap. I'm not going to tell the doctor how to practice, but I DO know what's wrong with me. It's like I get all of these doctors saying I have athlete's foot, and every OTC & prescription has me running cold water on my feet, or does NOTHING to help it... After going through this for the last 20-30 years, I think I know it's NOT athlete's foot... Yet the next doctor says it is, and process over... I do have eczema, and it may be psoriasis on my feet. They start as little water bubbles that grow. I drain the water, and it often comes back, until it dries up on it's own, and gets flaky and itchy. It doesn't have that pasty look that the other has, and no one in my house gets it, just me. Hydrocortizone 1% does nothing for the itch. Boric acid helps a little, and believe it or not, Zinc Oxide (desitin) helps a bit. I may try medicated Gold Bond. So how is it annoying to the doctors that I know it's NOT athlete's foot, when I'm the one that ought to be annoyed that the doctors can't get my diagnosis crap strait, and it's been going on since I was a kid? In Japan, they gave me cream, and it was good. I had eczema, and I was treated. Come here, it went away, and came back, and now I'm stuck with no treatment plan because they want to tell me that I'm wrong...

10:26PM PDT on Jul 19, 2011

Sometimes you have to trust your own instincts, sometimes doctors really aren't interested enough to do their job properly, it's hard to find a good one. I think that's why patients go to the internet for answers. Not me, although I think I would if I lost faith in my gp. Thankyou Lissa :)

2:48PM PDT on Jul 19, 2011


7:30AM PDT on Jul 19, 2011

Yes knowledge is power. Thank you. I love your "way" about you and wishmore pysicians would do the same. My MD is great that way and we get along great. We always discuss something I have researched, at every visit, and generally he and I are on the same page. It affirms I made the right choice of MD and helps me feel confident in him when an issue does come up.

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