doctor's office with medical supplies and clock

What do we pay doctors to do?

Use medical instruments to collect data? Record that data in our charts? Perform procedures? Prescribe medications? Give referrals to other medical specialists? Recommend home care remedies and strategies?

Have I forgotten anything?

The author of a new memoir would say YES!

Kurt Eichenwald has written an astounding memoir, published last year, about his lifelong struggles with epilepsy . . . and people. He tells a story that made me cringe and kept me riveted. I was especially intrigued because his story has so many similarities to my own.

I do not suffer from epilepsy. I have not suffered from drug side effects to the extent that Eichenwald has. But I have suffered from debilitating medical issues. I have also suffered from drug side effects. And I have suffered, like Eichenwald, from the missteps, overconfidence, and occasional outright hostility of other people, while I was trying to attain the medical care I needed.

Perhaps one day I will write my story. But I’m not sure I have much to express that Eichenwald hasn’t already brilliantly covered in A Mind Unraveled.

Experiencing a health problem is scary. Full of fears and anxieties, we turn to doctors for their expertise; and we believe what they tell us. We want to believe; we feel that we have no choice but to believe. But Eichenwald tells a horrific story of doctor after doctor failing him. He was misdiagnosed, multiple times. He was treated with condescension and disrespect, multiple times. He was prescribed medications that almost killed him, multiple times. He was wrongly informed that his seizures were not epilepsy, but a psychological disorder, multiple times.

Finally, after years of worsening epileptic seizures, and years of taking seriously high doses of medication without proper physician monitoring; after years of not knowing where he would wake up next, or with what debilitating injuries; after years of enduring discrimination for having a disability, and personal trauma and that almost resulted in him giving up on life entirely—he finally stumbled upon a doctor who was willing and able to help him. Here’s what happened during Eichenwald’s first consultation with Dr. Naarden:

“After twenty minutes, Naarden had already spent more time speaking with me than any other neurologist ever had.”

What?! No other neurologist had spent more than a total of twenty minutes talking with their patient about a serious, debilitating medical problem?

During that first visit, Dr. Naarden went on to speak with Eichenwald for much longer than twenty minutes. And he continued talking with his patient. He talked with him not just during the initial consultation, but during future visits. And this communication went both ways. The doctor listened very carefully to Eichenwald’s story and asked follow-up questions. He also told Eichenwald, in detail, what he knew about Eichenwald’s current medical situation, what he didn’t know about it, and what he would like to do in an attempt to learn more.

This communication was essential to a correct diagnosis of Eichenwald’s disorder. It was also essential to the series of careful, logical steps the doctor had to take to get Eichenwald’s epilepsy under better control, as well as to prevent high levels of drugs from further damaging the patient’s health. Finally, it was essential in instilling a sense of trust in Eichenwald, who by then had understandably given up on trusting any doctor, and was hesitant to do anything one advised him to do.

When a doctor talks with a patient about a medical issue, this is not wasted time. This is an integral part of the data-gathering process. Anecdotal information from the patient is equally as valuable as measurements obtained from diagnostic tests. When a doctor does not gather information from a patient, key pieces of the puzzle go missing. The doctor is then forced to jump to conclusions.

I was shocked that no other doctor had spent time talking with Eichenwald . . . but I was not surprised. The same thing happened to me. After encountering a series of doctors who misdiagnosed me and gave me wrong treatments and advice, which significantly worsened my problems, I finally stumbled upon one who was willing and able to help me.

How long had each of the unsuccessful doctors spent speaking with me about my health issues, total?

Yep, less than twenty minutes.

How long did the successful doctor spend speaking with me—during my initial consultation alone!—about my health issues?

Yep, more than twenty minutes.

So, what do we pay doctors to do?