Why You Need to Stop Telling Your Doctor What You Need

a doctor looking at his notes

A doctor | Source: iStock

Many Americans have developed a nasty habit. When we visit doctors or medical professionals (those of us who actually do), we often bring along a distorted view of the relationship’s dynamic; that is, we tend to see the doctor as merely a vendor, rather than a specialized professional. We come to the office with an idea of what we want or need, and with intentions to get it — not to listen to their opinion, and follow a course of action to achieve desired results.

Patients are not customers

Americans tend to view themselves as customers, in this regard, rather than patients. This is a trend that has picked up over the years, and has led to some real issues in the healthcare field. Patients visit doctors with an idea of what they need, and if a doctor won’t prescribe it to them, they visit other doctors until they get it. The main problem is that people are asking for things that they don’t need, and that will be completely ineffective in treating their condition.

The most common request doctors are seeing from patients, acting the part of the customer? Antibiotics. And that’s leading to some serious problems — namely, the rise of superbugs.

Superbugs are antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which are becoming more common due to overuse of antibiotics. Essentially, people are taking antibiotics when they don’t need them — say, for a common cold, which is a viral infection. This is leading to stronger, more versatile bacteria. These bacteria can’t be treated with antibiotics, and that has healthcare professionals worried.

But according to some new data from CivicScience, most of us are more than happy to place the blame on doctors for the rise of superbugs, rather than look at what behaviors of our own are playing a role. Here’s what CivicScience found:

As you can see, of the 2,500 respondents CivicScience asked, 40% were happy to point to doctors as the main culprit behind the rise of superbugs. Another 10% blamed dirty hospitals and offices. While it’s true that doctors do play a role, most evidence points to a lack of education about antibiotics, and their general misuse as the real factor at play. And only 5% of respondents seemed to agree.

“Convenience and laziness top the list of causes of antibiotic resistance. That is because those who misuse these drugs mostly do not pay the cost,” read an article from The Economist, published in 2011. “Antibiotics work against bacteria, not viruses, yet patients who press their doctors to prescribe them for viral infections such as colds or influenza are seldom harmed by their self-indulgence.”

“Many antibiotics are bought over the counter, with neither diagnosis nor proper recommendations for use, multiplying still further the number of human reaction vessels from which resistance can emerge.”

So, what we’re seeing is people medicating themselves with antibiotics, on a mass scale, often without supervision. By taking antibiotics, or not finishing the prescriptions they are given, these people are making our drugs less effective, and giving rise to stronger, deadlier diseases. According to CivicScience, that leads to more than 2 million cases of antibiotic-resistant illnesses per year in the U.S.

Doctors need to stop prescribing this stuff when it’s not needed. But patients also need to stop asking for it — or finding another source when they’re denied by their doctors. It may not seem like a big deal, but with so many people misusing antibiotic treatments, we’re setting ourselves up for disaster. We’re having enough trouble as it is finding new sources of antibiotic treatments, and when we finally run out of options, there’s no telling what might happen.

How can you help?

So, what can you do to be a more model patient? Stop acting like a customer. You can self-diagnose yourself using the Internet, but when it comes to seeking out treatment, let your doctor make the judgment call. This isn’t the only area where bad judgment and misinformation are creating serious, society-wide health problems. The recent hullabaloo surrounding vaccinations are also causing outbreaks of certain diseases, as parents are refusing to have their children vaccinated based on discredited and faulty information.

By changing the dynamic of the patient-doctor relationship, we’re doing more harm than good. And if CivicScience’s numbers are any indication, we’re evidently blind to our own role in the way we’re shaping society’s health problems. Do your research, but remember that you’re no expert. Doctors will make mistakes, but making decisions for yourself, often based on bad or misleading information, isn’t just going to hurt you, but everyone else as well.

“Consumer opinion on this topic betrays a need for education and public awareness. People feel that such campaigns aren’t needed. Only 5% of people thought the health issue was most linked to a lack of education from experts,” CivicScience says.

“The superbug problem seems to be linked to many causes at once, which might explain why 26% of adults chose the answer choice ‘I’m not sure.’ But if so many of us are unsure about what contributes to the drug-resistant bacteria, why aren’t more people concerned about a lack of education? One thing is for sure, preventative steps are greatly needed in order to fight the looming superbug threat.”

Check out CivicScience’s full brief on the subject for more information.

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