My daughter had her 18 month check-up yesterday, and I finally realized that all the little things about her (really, quite good) pediatrician’s office that bothered me have one common root cause. The doctors are scared of the parents.
Individually, everything that bothered me at appointments, starting at the “meet the pediatrician” before my daughter was even born, struck me as weird quirks of individual doctors. Or perhaps a lapse in knowledge or training. But this was one of the premier pediatricians in the state. In a wealthy area, with many prominent clients (children of professional athletes, for example). I was really starting to question the medical establishment as a whole. If this supposedly awesome office was so out of date, so “wrong”, how bad must it be at other practices?
Some examples? Homeopathy was recommended at our very first appointment (my husband had to hold me back from hormone Hulk raging the place to the ground); starting the vaccine conversation with “so let’s talk about the acceptable alternative schedules” rather than “here’s our schedule”; being told at the 18 month appointment that “I understand if you feel the need to turn her forward since she’s so big, but let’s talk about how to do that safely”, and “You’re still breastfeeding, don’t feel bullied into continuing to do that, there are no benefits other than snuggle time at this point anyway”. The moment I said “Dude, homeopathy is fake” or “Aria is rear-facing until forever, as per recommendations” and “give her every shot you can as soon as you can” I could see them relax. I saw them go from defensive mode to doctor mode.
Now, before I go farther let me say I realize my opinion here is coming from a place of super-duper privilege, and I’m sounding really elitist. I get that, I do. But I’m educated, I’m very familiar with AAP, CDC and WHO recommendations. I understand what is generally considered standard of care. And my fear is that parents who aren’t similarly educated will take these scared statements from physicians as permission to do potentially dangerous things (not vaccinate, turn kids around too early, etc). All the focus on “do your own research” and “be your own advocate” are all well and good when applied to the right issue. Absolutely, read about the risks and benefits of different options your doctor presents you with. Do certain treatment options better mesh with your lifestyle? Do certain side effects interfere with your life? Those are things to research. When doctors encourage you to become educated, these are the choices they’re talking about. They don’t expect you to become an epidemiologist and figure out if vaccines are a secret government conspiracy. In fact, most family practice doctors would admit that they themselves aren’t experts on vaccines. They know the recommendations, and they’re trained to deal with reactions, but epidemiology and the bio-chemistry of vaccines is NOT their specialty. With issues such as vaccination, it’s not just your doctor you think you’re being smarter than, it’s all of medicine. And not just in the United States where “oh noes Big Pharma”, it’s the entire medical establishment all across the world.
I have a degree in Astrophysics. Sometimes that makes me feel really smart. I’ll fact check the Big Bang Theory for you all day long. But I leave medicine to doctors, and the medical organizations dedicated to finding the care models that best serve patients. Do they get things wrong sometimes? Does the influence of our for-profit healthcare model get in the way of new advances? Absolutely. But no one googling through sites like Natural News or the Drudge Report is all of a sudden going to be smarter than the collective knowledge of the medical field. How egotistical must you be to think that your 12 hours spent chatting with Dr. Google makes you an expert?
People rail about how doctors aren’t up to date, or don’t fully support certain recommendations (that’s what made me want to write this, right?) but it’s because they’re bullied by parents who feel empowered by doing their own “research” (that word does not mean what you think it means) and are afraid to do their job. When they have to start every appointment putting out sympathetic feelers to decide how crazy a parent is, they’re not able to do their job. What if I didn’t understand carseat safety, and thought my doctor saying “it’s ok” to turn around meant I was supposed to? The push for empowered patients has gone too far. If you know everything, why even bother seeing the doctor? So you can put them in their place? It’s absurd.
Do your reading, ask questions, become informed, but for the sake of parents who are really trying to learn from their doctors, stop bullying doctors into being afraid of patients. Let them do their jobs, and seriously, from now on, unless you have a PhD in Chemistry, no more talk of how you researched vaccines. Because you didn’t.
Featured Image courtesy of Flickr user jfcherry