Putting your life in someone else’s hands is one of the hardest things patients are asked to do. We have no choice but to place our faith in the abilities and opinions of other people.
Sure, we can mitigate risk and make ourselves feel better by doing loads of fear-inducing Google research or seeking a second opinion. But, in the end, you choose your doctor and you move forward.
I recently read an op-ed in the NY Times about the way we make decisions in the medical sphere. It brought up some interesting points. First, we tend to trust authority figures, including doctors, without question. This is especially true when we’re frightened and vulnerable. And who isn’t when dealing with a scary, life-altering diagnosis? This can be dangerous since as many as one in five diagnoses are wrong (according to the article, which didn’t quote the source).
What’s more, we tend toward optimism, filtering in only the information we want to hear. I believe this can be a highly beneficial strategy of coping. After all, optimism, even in the face of a dismal diagnosis, can keep you feeling strong and keep the depression that effects up to one-third of patients with chronic disease at bay. But there’s a risk to the optimism bias, which is that you may be ignoring potential lifestyle risks or bad news, leading to decisions that may hurt you in the long run.
So how do you keep a clear head and move forward confident in the abilities of your chosen doctor? Well, for one, you don’t put your blinders on simply because you made a choice. The treatment you’re on now may not be the one that will be best for you a year from now. New treatments come out and sometimes our bodies begin to reject past treatments. Only you, not your doctor, can be responsible for noticing the changes in your symptoms. You can listen to your gut about what’s working and you can follow research and bring new treatment ideas to the table.
There’s more you can do to remain confident in your treatment. You can always seek second opinions for big treatment changes. You can bring in another set of ears to appointments so that when your emotions are running high and you’re hearing not-so-great news, you have another person to interpret what the doctor said later.
When you’re doing all that, you have nothing left but your best option, your best guess, and faith in your doctor’s treatment. And a healthy dose of optimism, of course.