There’s a good chance you’ve been with your Doctor for a few years. You go in a couple of times a year (hopefully no more often than that), you chat about your families and the state of your career, he (or she) listens, pokes, prods, palpates, and possibly prescribes. And you listen and do your best to follow instructions. Your Doctor is a health care professional, and there’s a degree hanging on the wall saying as much. So, he or she must know what it takes to be healthy right?
In an ideal world, the answer would be yes. But the world isn’t ideal—especially when it comes to health care.
Doctors need to prescribe behavior not pills
Most Doctors aren’t in the healthcare business. They don’t prescribe behaviors to make us healthy. They prescribe pills and surgeries and treatments to make us un-sick. Most Doctors I know outside of my facility– professionally and personally – only rarely mention diet, exercise or stress-relief techniques to their patients, in part because they don’t believe that their patients are willing or able to follow through with such a program. Rightly or wrongly, healthcare consumers have come to expect quick-fix solutions from our Doctors that require little to no action on our part—except maybe to take a pill or show up for a procedure. The implied agreement between you and your Doctor is that you will show up sick and he or she will give you something to make you well.
In some circles, this is changing. Doctors are literally prescribing exercise—writing “Aerobic exercise 3x/week 20 minutes/day” on their prescription pads and handing it to their patients, knowing that, to a completely sedentary person, almost no single behavior can be as beneficial to a person’s health as exercise is. Bravo to them.
Many Doctors aren’t in a position to give health advice
Too many others, however, are too embarrassed or resigned to bring it up, and instead, they offer a few vaguely reassuring words, and maybe prescribe a pill to treat the patient’s depression or blood thinners to treat his cardiovascular disease. Indeed, they’ve bought into the medical myth of the patient as a passive recipient of treatment. These Doctors are sometimes seriously overweight and deeply unhealthy themselves, and they often do little to combat unhealthy habits in the people around them. In fact, studies have shown that the standard of care given by Doctors is in direct relation to their own health and fitness. Obese and overweight Doctors, for example, are less likely to talk to their patients about health, exercise, and nutrition. Doesn’t the fact that if your Doctor is overweight and unhealthy cause you to question their credibility as a health professional? If you don’t teach health, you are teaching dis-ease. A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity showed that patients secretly — or not so secretly — look with disdain on doctors who are overweight or obese. Just as overweight people are stigmatized in an array of professional and personal settings, overweight doctors are seen as less credible than “normal weight” doctors, and patients are less likely to follow their medical advice, the study found.
A New York Times article referencing the study shared that patients seem to hold doctors to a stricter standard: “If you’re a health professional, people think you shouldn’t be struggling with weight,” said Dr. Rebecca M. Puhl, the lead author of the study and the director of research and weight stigma initiatives at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Dr. Puhl also noted that when it comes to Doctors being overweight that, “despite all the doctor’s training and expertise, it can jeopardize the doctor’s ability to have a conversation about health care with the patient.”
Give your Doctor a check-up
Here’s an assignment: next time you visit your Doctor, turn the tables. Look for indications of their health. Does her skin look healthy? Do her eyes look vital? Does she stand straight? Does she appear lean, muscular, athletic or is she overweight or worse yet, morbidly obese? Would you want her physique? Ask her about her program for personal health: Is she at least conscious of her own diet? Does she get exercise regularly? Is she up-to-date on the new dietary principles and exercise techniques? Does she know the difference and risks/benefits of a Paleo diet vs Atkins or even Keto? What about the fat debate and other topical issues? It’s important for a patient’s well-being for Doctors to be healthy as well and practice what they preach. For example, if your oncologist is grossly overweight and tells you, as a cancer patient, to eat whatever you want, you should probably consider a second opinion.
If you can’t feel confident taking health advice from someone unhealthy, then find someone else. I can’t take advice from anyone who doesn’t walk the talk – in life, business, or in their own health.
Doctors who have a real understanding of health, not just un-sickness, are a rare breed. Medical schools offer little to no information on nutrition or integrative wellness. Harvard educated Doctors to get zero nutrition training when in medical school. I’m not kidding on this. You can become a Harvard M.D with no training in nutrition at all. It’s not part of the curriculum, and it’s not a requirement. And this is the case for pretty much all the major medical schools in the USA. Just imagine how it is here in the Philippines.
If you keep up with medical news in the press, you may possibly know more about cutting-edge medical research than your Doctor already does. Seriously, most Doctors are struggling to keep the lights on – seeing as many patients as they can, battling with insurance, and stuck in a cramped 8′ x 8′ room all day listening to other people’s problems. Many are depressed, suicidal and getting their medical updates from the nightly news, medical societies pushing their hidden financial agendas, or pharmaceutical reps trying to sell the “latest and greatest” drugs. They don’t have time to stay healthy or keep up to date with research and advances in health when they’re struggling with trying to pay their own bills.
Be informed and proactive
A couple of other points to bear in mind when you see your Doctor: Go in informed. Do some research and check your symptoms before seeing your Doctor. Then, instead of being intimidated by the white coat and the formal authoritative manner, take charge of the room a bit. Have a list of questions going in and tick off the answers as you get them. Often Doctors speak so quickly that you leave the exam room more confused than when you came in. Whenever your Doctor prescribes a treatment, get all your options first. Many Doctors accept financial perks from pharmaceutical companies for prescribing particular medications. In the U.S. there is a website to check such things, (projects.propublica.org/docdollars ), but here in the Philippines, it’s truly the Wild, Wild West with pharmaceutical money flying around like flies in a manure pile. Always remember, pharmaceutical companies are competing to put prescriptions in your medicine cabinet every day.
If you don’t like the advice – change
At the end of the day, if your Doctor is more interested in plying you with pills than in maximizing your health, don’t be afraid to switch to a new one—no matter how long you’ve been together. Find a new Doctor through the recommendations of like-minded friends—not through your insurer, who are trying to limit costs.
Good luck and stay strong!
By: Guest author, Craig Cooper