Model stories written by young professionals/students.
In articles written by John C. Burnham and David J. Rothman, both argue that the “golden age” of the doctor came to an end in the post- World War II period, and Americans became disillusioned with the health field as a whole, distrusting physicians and not respecting the profession as they had in previous years. In “The Doctor as Stranger,” Rothman even goes on to say that “the patient was more likely to be in a strange setting surrounded by strangers,” as the decisions about their health became more critical. The fact that these critical health decisions were being made by a stranger was a concern for many people, and the doctor-patient relationship seemed to have a wedge driven between it. Today, we are still trying to regain that relationship and the trust that doctors and their patients once had.
There are many different artifacts and characteristics of contemporary medical culture, some of which are talked about in the articles such as house calls and the fact that there seems to be a growing divide between doctors and patients. I think one of the most defining characteristics of contemporary medical culture is the loss of trust that patients have in their doctors. I think this aspect is so important, because every patient wants to be able to trust that their doctor is doing the right thing for their issues, and doctors want to build trust with their patients. Since trust is so imperative in the health field, it is important to look at the roots of this characteristic.
One of the roots of this lack of trust is the new technology we have today, especially the Internet. With things like WebMD and health forums online, many patients come into a clinic or an office with a diagnosis already in mind, and what kind of treatment plan they should follow. If their physician has a different diagnosis, or puts them on a different medication, I think they lose trust in the ability of that doctor, because they think they know the right answer because of things they found on the Internet. I know multiple times my friends and I have visited the clinic on campus, and been guilty of this. While these are all doctors who have gone through rigorous schooling, I have had multiple friends tell me that they think they were diagnosed wrong, or given the wrong medication, and they would recommend me going somewhere else because they don’t trust the doctor that they saw. When you hear these things from multiple people, it may make someone lose trust in the profession. Personally, another reason I am guilty of losing trust in doctors because of things my brother has told me. He went through medical school, and I saw firsthand how much schooling and work he put into it, but he came home and told me there were doctors that he would not want us going to, just because he felt like he wouldn’t trust them. This can relate as well to the general public. While not all of the public may be in the situation of knowing someone in medical school, in general the public has a hard time placing their health in the hands of someone else, especially because so many of them think they can diagnose themselves on their own.
Another thing that contributes to this lack of trust is the impersonal feeling that many patients get from the doctors. While some people have doctors that they have known personally for a while, today it’s hard to know every doctor that you will be trusting with your health. As Burnham wrote in his article, common criticisms of physicians included “a failure to take personal interest,” and “inability to get a doctor in case of emergency.” These factors all contribute to the current lack of trust that is seen in the health care field today, because it is so much harder to trust someone that you don’t know on a personal level, and one that seems to not be dependable in case of a crisis.
The roots of the current lack of trust in physicians matter because trust is the fundamental ground on which the medical profession should be built. As a patient, I want to trust my doctor, and as a doctor I would want my patient to be able to trust me. I believe we are truly in the “golden age of medicine,” seeing that we have the best technology and we keep advancing everyday. All we need now is for the trust that patients once had in their doctors to come back. This could be done by ensuring patients that medical schools are top notch, by physicians placing more emphasis on connecting with their patient personally, and possibly by allowing more time for the patient to interact with the doctor so that they know all of their concerns are being heard.
Burnham, John C. “American Medicine’s Golden Age: What Happened to It?” Science 215, no. 4539 (1982). 1474-1479.
Rothman, David J. Chapter 7, “The Doctor as Stranger.” In Strangers at the Bedside: A History of How Law and Bioethics Transformed Medical Decision Making. Basic Books, 1991.