Columns for The Lufkin News

A Spoonful of Sugar

Posted Mar 02, 2015 by Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

I don't think I'm unique in having a family that discusses medical issues at the dinner table. But in a family with a doctor, sometimes discussions – to the dismay of my children – are more colorful than they would like. I have learned (mostly) to keep discussions from veering off track. For my family’s part, they know there is a cardinal rule that must be obeyed: you are not allowed to mention Google or Reader’s Digest when discussing medical facts. That rule was recently broken by my wife, Catherine, but in an interesting and forgivable way. Here's the story.

My wife takes a potassium pill – a common supplement – once a day. As anyone who takes this pill knows, it is a big tablet. A horse pill, some would say. And because of that, she wasn't taking it reliably. Some days she could swallow it without too much difficulty, and other days she just couldn't get it down. If she tried a couple of times without success, she just let it go. That’s where Google comes in. In a worthy attempt to educate herself, she went online, researched the medicine, and found out why she needed it. Now, she is much more compliant... to a point. She won't take it if she is alone, because she doesn't want to choke on it.

When she told this story at the dinner table, she concluded, "Isn't that interesting?" To which I replied, "What is interesting is that you didn't trust that because the doctor prescribed it for you, you needed to take it." My daughter then remarked, "That's because a lot of doctors are quacks." So much for respecting the medical profession these days.

Of course, as a doctor's wife, Catherine very much respects the profession of medicine, and I had a twinkle in my eye when I "accused" her otherwise. My daughter's sarcastic analysis, however, did sting a little. Long gone is the era of paternalistic medicine, where TV doctor Marcus Welby, MD simply told his patients what was best and they complied without question. Now patients come to our offices telling us what is best and expecting us to comply. And front line primary care doctors are so strapped for time and paid so little for each office visit that sometimes it is easier just to acquiesce. 

Physicians must resist that temptation. Historically, perhaps it was appropriate for the family doctor to be paternalistic when he knew his patient so well – both inside and outside the office – and when he took care of the medical needs of the entire family. Too often today, the primary care physician is seen simply as the source of a referral to a specialist. The gatekeeper moniker was a kind way of referring to the physician whose true role was (as far as the insurance companies were concerned) to prevent specialist referrals rather than facilitate them. That is a far cry from the position of a genuine coordinator of care who manages the various specialists’ recommendations and knows all the medications that have been prescribed. Such coordination takes a great deal of communication not only among healthcare professionals but between the primary physician and the patient as well.

All physicians – not just primary care physicians – must work harder to earn the respect and trust of their patients. We must take the time to explain the interventions we recommend and the medicines we prescribe. Those horse pills will go down a lot easier with a little sweet talk and education along the way. And our patients will be happier and healthier as a result. Now, that's good medicine!

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Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Sidney C. Roberts, MD, FACR

Radiation Oncologist

Madelene Collier, RN, OCN

Madelene Collier, RN, OCN

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Jewel Randle, RT (R)(T)

Jewel Randle, RT (R)(T)

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Aimee Salas, RT (T)

Aimee Salas, RT (T)

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Josh Yarbrough, RT (R)(CT)(T)

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Julie McClain, RT (R)(T)

Julie McClain, RT (R)(T)

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Linda Miller, MS

Linda Miller, MS

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Evelyn Leach

Evelyn Leach

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