Doctor as teacher
Oct 8, 2013 / 5:00 am
The fifth principle of Naturopathic Medicine is “doctor as teacher”. In fact, doctor is the Latin word for teacher. Traditionally, doctors not only utilized medicines to treat diseases but also educated people about how their bodies work and what they can do to improve their health. Unfortunately, doctors in the modern medical era have less and less taken on the role of educator and more and more taken on the role of provider of treatment.
The modern medical system puts a high priority on providing treatment and a relatively low priority on visit consultation times. Most visits are too short for a doctor to have an in depth discussion with the patient about their health concerns. Most of the time involved in a visit is dedicated to figuring out what prescription to write. However, when visits are long enough for proper intakes to be done and proper education to be provided the need for treating symptoms with pharmaceuticals reduces.
One of the most important roles of the doctor should be to educate patients on how their body works. The more educated the patient is the more likely they are to implement changes that make a real difference. A classic example is with heartburn and its conventional medical treatment. The standard treatment is to provide acid-reducing medications like proton-pump inhibitors, H2 Blockers, or over the counter antacids. However, if patients were explained that the stomach actually needs a very acidic environment in order to digest foods well and that the actual problem is more likely to be from a hernia, irritated esophageal sphincter, food allergies, or infection most patients would want a different form of treatment. Many patients would be more interested in dietary and lifestyle modifications that actually corrected the problem instead of medications that will never fix the problem and come along with negative side effects.
Doctors should spend the time with their patients to educate them on the results of their lab tests and other investigations. One of the most common things I hear in practice is that “I never heard back from the doctor’s office about that test so I’ve assumed it was all good”. While the tests may be negative there is a significant learning opportunity missed when tests are not reviewed. There is also the very real possibility that you were lost in the shuffle. Most lab tests are not black and white. They exist in a gray scale that moves over time. It is important to compare this year’s results to previous results to see where the patient is headed even if the results are negative. For example, if iron levels are declining with each test it is important to catch this and address it before the patient becomes anaemic.
In most cases, there is more than one possible healthcare route to pursue. One of the most important educating roles of a physician is to go over all of those options with the patient. First and foremost a doctor should be there to support the patient and look out for their best interest. This should not change depending on the therapies the doctor provides. For example, if you see a GP, specialist, naturopathic doctor, or other practitioner for a consultation you’d hope that the fundamental advice would be basically the same and that it wouldn’t be slanted based on that practitioner’s biases. Each doctor should take the time required to go over all of the legitimate options for treatment and help the patient make the decision regardless of whether the treatment would be provided by them or another doctor or provider.
Education promotes empowerment. When a physician educates a patient about their anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, causes of symptoms, and treatment options the patient is more likely to become empowered and make positive changes. When the doctor educates the patient with a detailed treatment plan that lays all the information out in a clear and concise way patients are much more likely to implement it. Most of us don’t change our behavior unless there is good reason to and we have a reasonable plan to implement. When doctors use their full breadth of knowledge and share it with their patients positive outcomes are much more likely because of this educational exchange.
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