Why do people distrust doctors? I’m not talking about all people. But a lot of people. And it’s growing. I have been practicing medicine for about 20 years now. I’ve practiced in the upper Midwest, the southwest, and now the mid south region of the U.S. And I’ve talked to a lot of people over those years. My perception is that people are generally starting to distrust us as a profession of doctors, much more than in years past.
What is my answer to that?
It’s about time!
I’m not trying to throw all of the medical profession (including myself) under the bus here, but think about it…As a patient, you come to us in your most vulnerable hour. You hurt. You can’t breathe. You are scared of something terrible that will happen to you. You’re anxious. You’re depressed. You have researched your symptoms or your fears and they have indeed been confirmed by Dr. Google. You come to us in your desperate, vulnerable hour. In a way, you must be able to trust us. Who else are you going to turn to?
You seek advice and we give opinions based on a multitude of different backgrounds. Some of us tell you the same opinion that someone told us many years ago in med school. Some of us tell you what you want to hear and not what we know is best. Some of us defer to consensus statements from agencies like The American Medical Association or the Center for Disease Control, of the American Diabetes Association or the American Heart Association, or drug reps. Some of us dig deep–really deep–until we get to the bare bones of the issue to form our own evidence based answers, in order to avoid biased advice.
Yet as a profession, we have managed to erode that trust when we polarize a medical situation to fit our own political narrative. And this erosion is accelerating. I believe this boils down to a few things:
The only way to start gaining trust in patients again is for doctors to try really hard, every day, to look at the positions of those who think differently than they do. Why does this patient think that ozone therapy or light therapy or herbal therapy works? Maybe there might be something to it? Maybe ivermectin works in a subset of patients with COVID? Maybe the COVID vaccine actually does save lives in the elderly. Maybe natural immunity does work as well as the vaccine, maybe even better? Maybe lockdowns of nursing homes were effective but not locking down elementary schools?
Maybe humility needs to be our mantra if we want to keep patients trusting us. Maybe.