Thursday, May 8, 2008

Fairness to Doctors

I'm writing this Blog entry in response to an anonymous reader who posted a comment regarding the generally negative way people view doctors, on my March 15 Blog entry titled, "Sign From God?"

During my two years of cancer, I've been alarmed at how many patients just entrust their lives to their doctors without ever questioning or seeking information to educate themselves about their own conditions. I've also been surprised at how cynical and negative some people are about doctors, accusing them of being incompetent, heartless, or motivated by money rather than compassion.

I've worked hard to find a team of doctors who are competent, compassionate, and, I believe, have my best interests at heart. My mastectomy surgeon and oncologist, especially, have shown me what is truly honorable about this profession. I know doctors get a bad rap for their arrogance, but these two doctors have never let their egos get in the way of offering me the best treatment they could, no matter how many times I questioned or disagreed with them. To me, that's a sign of not just compassion, but true intelligence and wisdom.

But I'm not their only patient. They treat dozens, maybe a hundred patients a week and they can make the occasional mistakes or can be a bit brusque and hurried at times. They're human.

We're all guinea pigs every time we try something new. I don't think that's necessarily a derogatory or incorrect characterization. In oncology, doctors are sometimes forced to try new treatments on their patients without the safety net of a long and proven track record. Cancer research can be so fast-paced and studies and results so skewed and open to interpretation, it's up to the doctor to find the best choices he can offer his patients. AND it's up to the patient to investigate these choices and participate in the decision-making process.

My doctors have tried a number of unproven treatments on me. Some of them have worked and some have not. But I never felt my doctors were putting my life at unnecessary risk. They provided me with ample information and answered all my questions about the risks we'd be taking and allowed me full participation in the decision. If it hadn't been a two-way process, I'd be leaving the entire decision and the burden of responsibility on the doctors, and that's not fair to them.

I don't think all doctors are out to make money, but sadly, there are enough out there to give the rest of the profession a bad reputation. I, for one, have come across doctors whom I suspect are digging into their own profits to offer discounted treatments to patients.

The best medical care requires participation from both sides. Doctors have years of medical education, training, and experience that no amount of research I can do will match. I have years of living in my own body and knowledge of how I physically feel that no amount of medical training will match.

I think patients should take some responsibility for their treatment. It's a doctor's job, but it's the patient's life. Job versus life. Who has a greater stake in the outcome?


Anonymous said...

When my children were growing up I liked to tell them that "Nobody takes better care of you than you do. That includes Doctor, lawyer, or Indian Chief." (These were the names used to express all the people that we think will take care of our needs) It's funny to me now that I really didn't know how very true that is. We have to be part of the team of at least the two of us. Shin, you have shown us about this truth so often when you write about your journey through this Cancer thing.

Anonymous said...

Shin, would you be able to share the names of the doctors (surgeon, oncologist) whom you have had such good experience with? I think this would help a lot of people out here in Singapore who don't even know how to start finding the best possible specialist.


Shin said...

Dear Karen,

The surgeon who did my mastectomy is Dr. Hoe Ah Leong at Gleneagles Medical Centre. And my oncologist is Dr. Yap-Whang Hwee Yong at Mt. Elizabeth Medical Centre.

These two doctors were a particularly good fit for me and my personality. That doesn't mean they're going to be a good fit for every other patient. Likewise, the other doctors I bypassed might not have been suitable for me but may indeed be very good matches for other patients.

Of the 18 doctors I saw in total, there is only one doctor I would say should be avoided at all costs - because he made a serious mistake that could have been avoided if he had listened to his patient, because he never apologized for his mistake, and because he treated his patient with complete disdain and callousness. I won't mention his name in this public forum, but if you'd like to know who he is, feel free to e-mail me at my Gmail address on this blog. I truly dislike bad-mouthing anyone, but I don't think this doctor should be allowed to terrify any more patients.

I hope this information is helpful.

Anonymous said...

I was the "anonymous" who wrote on your blog about Drs. We talked about it over dinner when your sister, Jin, was here.
I don't dislike Drs, and, funnily enough, I even will go so far as to say that I trust some of them. But the arrogance of a bad Dr is overwhelming and the consequences are so bad, and I'm afraid that we have our fair share of them here in Singapore.
I have a personal experience of such and I won't ever forgive that Doctor. The arrogance, the fact that the patient wasn't even given a chance to express his view -- with fatal consequences. if I were ever a Dr, I would give paramount importance to what my patient said before my own diagnosis. I might think I knew what was wrong with someone, but if my patient told me otherwise, I'd listen, not just say "you must be imagining it".

Eira xx

Anonymous said...

Dear Shin,

Hope you are well :)
Wondering if you could give your you know if Dr Yap-Whang Hwee Yong (Oncologist) is recommended as well for servics cancer?My friend's mom need this info as they are all confuse and I tried to browse and found your blog.
I found several recommendation regarding Dr Yap-Whang Hwee Yong (Oncologist, but mostly refer to breast cancer.

Thanks in advance!
Get well soon :)


Tony said...

Hi Shirley,

Yes, Shin would have recommended Dr Whang for other forms of cancer also. Dr Whang is a very good ongcologist and Shin had a lot of trust in her.