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Should we rate doctors?


How well should you know a person before you agree to let them carve you open with a scalpel, rearrange your innards and then sew everything back up?  My personal policy has been to just blindly follow the recommendations of every doctor I see.

The weakness of this policy is exposed by a year that requires visits to a parade of different specialists.  If you get slightly conflicting advice from a couple of these doctors,  you first conclude that medicine is not a unified theory.  Then you must choose which doctor’s advice you will follow.  In America, it’s easy to know which expert you rely on.  It’s the one who tells you what you want to hear.

In a recent surgery wherein I was carved, rearranged and sewn back up, it took some time to regain my wits after being subjected to general anesthesia.  So the surgeon met instead with my wife after the operation to report and to answer any questions.  Mrs. V had hoped that the surgeon might offer a slice by slice description of everything that happened and all that might follow, but the surgeon said only that everything went very well and left it open for questions.  I don’t think this caused any worry, just mild disappointment that the doctor was not more forthcoming.

I blame it on the Internet.  Doctors who’ve spent 10 to 12 years studying to do what they do must get dismayed by responding to thick-skulled questions from people who learned all that same information in just a few hours of Internet study.

If you stop at a drive-thru oil change, you just let them service your car.  They would be surprised if you asked them to discuss the merits of different multi-viscosity oils within the same brand, or if the 2007 model of your car had better bearing life than the 2006 model.  Most of us just sit there passively watching some horrible TV program that another customer left running, or look at magazines from a bygone era.

Granted, there is a lot more at stake when the service provider must provide service inside your body.  Still, nothing made me think I could learn enough about general medicine, or my particular ailments, or the best choice of surgeon, in a period much shorter than the 10 to 12 years that these physicians had already invested.  Trust in the doctor still seems like the safest course.

It would be a big help if there was a real and reliable site that fairly rates and reviews doctors.  With the number of doctors in our country, it is a mathematical certainty that some of them are not good.  Again, it’s a thing I didn’t spend much time on, discouraged early by the few ratings/review sites I did find.  Those sites either had universally wonderful ratings of all doctors whose names I entered, or the complaints amounted to those disgruntled by long spells in the waiting room or billing problems.  Not much there about the doctor’s skills and peer reviews.

I had an operation where the top of my stomach was wrapped around the bottom of my esophagus – a certain end to gastric reflux.  The gastrointestinal surgeon that performed the operation said that would end the aspiration of reflux gunk into my lungs thus ending the worrisome deterioration there.  The pulmonologist hopes that is true, but is not certain we ever knew the source of that deterioration.  In this case we will trust the gastrointestinal surgeon—no contest.

(Don Vowell lives in Keizer. He gets on his soapbox regulary in the Keizertimes.)