Physicians best solve our patients’ problems by treating them as unique individuals | Opinion

I have a doctor of medicine degree. An author with a doctor of economics degree recently contributed a guest commentary to The Star where he advised physicians on how to practice medicine. It was so wrong about how we physicians think and practice that I feel compelled to respond.

Having practiced medicine in a very busy family medicine clinic for more than 33 years, and having studied at the University of Missouri School of Medicine in Columbia, then completing my residency at the Mayo Clinic, I am a bit more of an expert than he in the practice of medicine and how physicians approach solving patients’ problems.

The commentary said that in the future, “people will be shocked to learn how long it took the medical profession today to catch on to the importance of treating each individual as a unique human being.” Seriously? This shows little hands-on knowledge of how physicians communicate with each other. Here is how a first-year medical student learns to present a hypothetical patient:

“Mrs. Rodriguez is a 45-year-old, well-controlled insulin-dependent diabetic, Honduran-born, nonsmoking, nondrinking, widowed G5, P4, SAB1 female who works as the CFO of an inter-city lumber yard.” Before any mention of her medical complaint is made, her uniqueness as a human being is laid out. Why? Because very early on in our medical training, we are taught how important a patient’s individual characteristics are in making the correct diagnosis and formulating a treatment plan.

It goes on: “Even more appalling is doctors’ use of anecdotal experiences that they have accumulated over the years.” Of course we do! A doctor with more than 30 years of experience has much better clinical, surgical, diagnostic and treatment abilities than a physician fresh out of training. It takes many years to develop the necessary skills required to become an excellent physician.

The commentary asks: ”Is your doctor using your DNA sample to help decide what treatment will work best for you?” How would a DNA sample help me treat an acute pneumonia, calm a child with a laceration, give comfort to a grieving wife who just lost her husband, set a fractured arm, or properly address hypertension, depression, panic attacks, chronic cough, obesity or back pain? These are just a few of the many common situations and complaints physicians deal with on a regular basis. Although DNA analysis will continue to have a more important role in medicine, few diagnoses and treatments require it in 2024.

But using DNA will never teach a physician to make eye contact, listen closely to the patient’s complaints and act with compassion and empathy, nor can it help hold back tears in deeply emotional situations. Physicians don’t need “regression analysis,” whatever that is, to make accurate diagnoses and treatment plans. We use our brains. And sometimes our hearts.

Practicing medicine is a highly complex art that utilizes science in a practical way to help patients. And I loved it. Many years of training and experience are required to create a good physician. It was my privilege to be entrusted with the care of so many of my wonderful long-term patients and their families. Physicians don’t need an economist to tell them how important it is to consider individual patient characteristics. Actually, it just takes common sense.

In their line of work, economists never have to inform a dear patient they have a terminal disease, leave the operating or emergency room to tell a family their loved one didn’t make it, hold the hand of a dying patient and try to ease their pain and tell them medical science has no more to offer, keep the ever-present threat of a malpractice suit out of their minds, attempt to calm the little child who is fearful of the shots he or she is about to receive, or try to go to sleep at night wondering if all the diagnoses they made and prescriptions they wrote that day were correct.

Economists should stick to teaching about economics.

Martin Kanne is a retired family physician who lives in Parkville.