Is There a Doctor Identity Crisis?

If you are going to see a doctor today, then it is probably because something hurts somewhere in your body. Pain is the number one reason why a patient goes to the doctor, with over half of all doctor visits attributed to either some type of joint problem or to back pain.

When it comes to treating pain, doctors seem to be experiencing a bit of an identity crisis. The steep rise in overdose deaths attributed to opioids has created mounting regulatory pressures on doctors to prescribe less opioids. But just saying “no” doesn’t solve the problem or make it go away. So, when it comes to treating pain, what should be the role(s) of the physician? Let’s take a look at some of the usual suspects and go from there:

  • The Diagnostician: Patients often go to their doctors for answers. There is an expectation that there is a test out there that will explain any medical condition, but while that can work for acute problems like a broken bone, when the pain is more chronic that simply isn’t the case. There is no test that can fully explain the human condition when it is suffering from the unnerving experience of chronic pain. There are just too many factors involved to paint a real picture with just lab tests and radiology reports.
  • The Symptom Manager: No matter what you may be feeling – pain, depression, anxiety, fatigue – some just want their physician to make it go away. And that often leads to a whole host of medications, including painkillers of many shapes and sizes, sleeping pills, antidepressants, and anxiety medications. But unfortunately, just piling a bunch of medications on the problem with the hope that it will go away doesn’t work well, nor does it get to the root of the problem.
  • The Advocate: Many patients with a chronic disease can feel like they are swimming upstream and want to feel as though their physician will go to bat for them. Their doctor will do what it takes to fight through the red tape and insurance hurdles to make sure they get what they need.

But if we dive deeper, adding some of these other roles just might add greater value to what you can get from the doctor/patient relationship:

  • The Scientist: Sadly, when it comes to treating pain, a lot of the care that gets provided does not follow the science, or what we refer to as evidence-based medicine. One of the basic tenets of medicine is to do no harm, but how often do we see doctors and patients want to “try” things just for the outside chance that it could make a difference? The problem with that is it leads to and endless stream of life-altering complications and side effects that can make the situation worse instead of better.
  • The Life Coach: When it comes to chronic disease management a lot of education and a good measure of motivation is needed to create lasting and impactful progress. An effective life coach needs to be a great communicator who can really connect with their audience. How the message is delivered can be just as important as what the message is about.
  • The Healer: The pinnacle of being a great doctor is to be a healer, sometimes at a deeper level. The pain experience often has many sides to it. Everything from muscles, joints, and nerves to mood, attitude, family dynamics, and even past experiences can matter. The true healer is able to synthesize a plan for this diverse set of interconnected factors while seeing the big picture and not settling for quick fixes.

Whatever role(s) you would like your physician to play in your life, it might be worth evaluating how things are going and why, and then take stock of how you and your physician can work better together to create long-term success.