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.

Education Is Empowering

When you are sick – especially when you are sick with a rare disease – you may wind up knowing more about your illness than your doctor does. And more power to ya! It’s your body after all. Your doctor may not have time to go to the library and pull every article ever published about your rare condition, but you may be able to do that, and the internet makes it easier than ever to do so.

This is part of what I do in my medical practice. I work one-on-one with patients in extended sessions helping them navigate the scientific literature, answering their questions about what they’ve read on the internet, doing my own research and translating it into plain language for them in order to help them make the best decisions possible, advocating on their behalf and calling their own physician, if necessary, listening to their intuitive hunches, and empowering them to learn the tools necessary to heal themselves.

This service is desperately needed because so many doctors are dismissive of an empowered patient who wants to fully understand her health condition so she can make the best choice possible for herself.

An Empowered Choice

Take my patient – we’ll call her Eloise – who found out she carried the breast cancer gene (BRCA). The presence of this gene means she has a very high lifetime risk of developing breast cancer or ovarian cancer, so her doctor recommended that she have her breasts, ovaries, and uterus all hacked out.

She was like “Not so fast, buster.”

So we spent hours in sessions together, reviewing the medical literature, reviewing the alternatives, playing every possible scenario out to its best and worst possible outcome, tapping into Eloise’s intuitive wisdom about what was right for her, freeing her from the temptation to agree with her doctor, just so she could please him, and empowering her own self-healing mechanisms.

Eloise is very conservative, with a very low risk threshold, so she got very clear from our sessions that she wanted to do everything possible to minimize her risk. She didn’t want to spend the rest of her life worrying about getting cancer, so she decided to get her breasts and ovaries removed, but after we reviewed the medical literature together, she chose to keep her uterus, even though her doctor recommended otherwise.

Some doctors might label Eloise as one of those “difficult patients,” who got a second opinion, did her research, and made a choice that differed from what her doctor recommended.

But for me, Eloise is my ideal patient. She abides by the kind of doctor-patient agreement I wrote about here. She’s educated, empowered, and accepting responsibility for her own health, rather than handing her power over to someone else and saying, “Fix me.”

Doctors, who get annoyed by patients who ask questions, second guess them, read stuff on the internet, and make their own decisions based on their own gut instinct, need to get off their high horses and get over themselves.

In The New Medicine, all patients will be like Eloise, and health care providers will cherish these kinds of patients who take an active interest in their own health care.

I’m here to lead the way into a vision of the future I see coming closer ever day. I’m going to be writing a series of posts about The New Medicine, so make sure you’re on my newsletter list to keep up to join the movement and stay in the loop.

Can You See It?

Do you believe it’s good to be an educated patient? Are you gutsy enough to second guess your doctor when your gut tells you to make a different choice? Do you print stuff off the internet and bring it in with you? Do you question your doctor and make sure you understand and feel comfortable and agree with the treatment plan?

Tell me what you think!

Cheering for educated patients,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.commotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.


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Nancy Harris
Nancy Harris3 years ago

Foot doctors in dallas tx thinks this is true.

Michele Wilkinson

Interesting reading.

Charlene S.
Charla D.4 years ago

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 (albright.com). No surgery needed! The new dentist I went to could barely believe the results.

Debbie L.
Debbie Lim4 years ago

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.

Rebekah C.
Rebekah C.4 years ago

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.

Past Member
Past Member 4 years ago

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.

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

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...

Nimue Pendragon
Nimue Pendragon4 years ago

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 :)

Sandy Erickson
Sandy Erickson4 years ago


Darla G.
Darla G.4 years ago

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.