To doctor or not to doctor? That is the question. What does it mean to doctor someone? I tried looking up the definition of “doctor” but I did not really get what I was looking for. When I think of the term doctoring, what comes up is the Latin term docere. I do believe that this is the origin of the word doctor. When I look at the definition of docere it is as follows: to instruct, teach, or point out. This is where I feel there is a lapse in our current system. We seem to bypass the teaching part of medicine and focus exclusively on the medicalization of the patient. What I mean by this is that the focus becomes centered on the symptoms of an individual (the effect), without much regard for inquiring into the reason (cause) for them.
I recently had a patient ask me if I feel more like a counselor than a doctor. For a moment I thought yes, of course I feel more like a counselor, because I do a tremendous amount of instructing, teaching and pointing out with my patients, which I believe are hallmarks of an effective counselor. But, I am a doctor, not a counselor. Of course, counseling has a wonderful place in our current healthcare system, but the primary focus of a counselor is on the emotional health of the patient. As a doctor, I am interested not only in counseling of the emotion (mind), but also of the body. This made me start thinking about the how we manage people with regard to their health concerns.
All too often I see people who feel frustrated with the fact that they do not know what is happening in their bodies. They don’t feel confident that they have the skills or tools to make themselves feel better. This is in large part due to how we medicalize people and distract them from the role that they have in their own healthcare. It is as if once a person gets a diagnosis, there is an exhale, due to the relief that now we know what is going on. And yes, diagnosis is an important part of medicine, but it’s really the starting point of the individual’s journey into managing their health.
Once this starting point is established, there then seem to be one of two directions that people will take. One option is into the land of prescription medication and procedure-based health care. This is focused on the symptoms of the individual with an effort to eradicate the disease, to eradicate the problem, to make it go away. People like this concept because it is very finite. It fits our black and white thinking with regard to life: that if there is a problem, we should try to just make it go away. Unfortunately, I do not see that happen for my patients. What I see happen is that the suppression of one problem creates another. And then another. And then another. This tends to frustrate the patient and move them further away from their ability to control their own health.
I believe that if doctors took the time to begin improving our ability to instruct, educate, and point out causative factors that pertain to an individual’s health, our ability to treat effectively would significantly increase. People are smart! They can understand and know the truth with regard to their choices and the impact that those choices can have on their health. When we over-medicalize, we move further away from healing and confuse the patient more.