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Why I Prefer Doctors Who Admit, 'I Don't Know'

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I am a complicated patient and I know it. I have so many diagnoses and symptoms I couldn’t name them of the top of my head, even if I had all day. That being said, asking a doctor to wrap their head around everything I go through is a challenging feat.

You see, when the average person gets sick, they go to the doctor wondering what is wrong. They expect that the doctor will have an clear answer and a treatment that will make them feel better. When you are a typical sick person, with something like strep throat, bronchitis, or a nasty cold, a doctor can easily make the diagnosis. However, not all illnesses are common or present themselves in the manner described in medical school textbooks. This makes getting an answer even more difficult. However, the expectation is that doctors know everything, but they are in fact human, and no human knows everything.

There is a tremendous amount of pressure on healthcare providers to have an answer, to have a treatment, and to have a cure. But what if they don’t? As I’ve gone through my journey as an undiagnosed patient, I’ve come to recognize a few different kinds medical providers.

There’s the kind that actually know what your illness is and how to treat it, if such treatment is available. The providers that don’t know what is wrong but insist that it is “all in your head,” despite quantitative tests coming back abnormal. Then there’s the providers that don’t know and aren’t willing to investigate further. Lastly, there are the providers that don’t know, but want to find out.

Of course we all want answers and accurate answers at that. It is easy to say you know something, but it is not as easy to admit, “I don’t know, but I’m going to do everything I can to find out.” For me personally, we have ruled out all the “horses ” (more common conditions) and we are left with the “zebras” (rare conditions).

That being said, I have an enormous amount of respect for the doctor that can look their patient in the eye and say, “I don’t know what it is going on and I’m not going to claim to know, but I’m willing to try and find some answers”.

That may rock some individuals’ confidence in the physician. Doctors know everything, right? If they don’t they are poor doctors. Not necessarily. Just because a doctor doesn’t know what is wrong, doesn’t mean they are less intelligent or less skilled than another doctor who may claim that they know what’s ailing you.

As Cicero once said, “Any man is liable to make mistakes, but only the fools persists in error.” I think the same can be said for the doctors involved in the diagnostic process. Doctors are humans, and humans make mistakes. To claim that you know something when you don’t is foolish and can be harmful to the patient. As an undiagnosed patient, if I can’t have the doctor that knows exactly what is going on, I want that doctor that is confident and will do everything they can to help me.

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Thinkstock Image By: Ingram Publishing

Originally published: March 9, 2017
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