How many people expect perfect outcomes in medical practice?

Want more evidence about how many people expect perfect outcomes in medical practice?

Look no further than the Wall Street Journal: “What if the Doctor is Wrong?” by Laura Landro.

As a substantive basis for the conclusion that initial treating physicians are “wrong” when they haven’t yet reached a diagnosis, Ms. Landro interviewed two patients who, in the midst of a workup, left the doctor who was trying to diagnose and treat their problems.

Said patients then went to a “mecca” to have their workup completed where, amazingly, the problem is “discovered” and “properly” treated. Even though the initial provider in all likelihood would have done the same testing that the “mecca” performed after reviewing the results of the initial testing – had the patient stuck around long enough to have the testing performed. Even though the “standard of care” may have been to do things exactly the way that the initial provider was doing them. Nope, they’re wrong because they didn’t get to the answer sooner.

When reading about all these “errors” I couldn’t help wondering: Did Ms. Landro have a neutral physician review the patients’ medical records to see whether the care provided to the patients was appropriate? Did Ms. Landro interview the initial treating physicians to determine what the next step in their treatment plans would have been? If so, she kind of left those points out of her article.

I understand the idea that second opinions can be useful and I agree that misdiagnoses are sometimes made. Until we find a single test that is 100% sensitive and 100% specific for diseases such as cancer or complaints such as abdominal pain, there will always be misdiagnoses made. Even once a diagnosis has been made, there are disagreements about how to proceed with treatment. Some prefer one medication for treating certain types of cancer, some prefer another medication. Does that make one side “wrong” and the other side “right”? Hardly.

The title of this article and the slant of this reporting make it appear as if doctors are “wrong” just because they don’t make a diagnosis after the first round of testing. Did Ms. Landro even explore how often the “meccas” get their diagnosis “wrong” on the first visit? Are the “meccas” that much better?

If patients want to mortgage their house to get the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars necessary for a “down payment” at MD Anderson or some other “mecca” when they likely would have gotten similar testing done had they stuck with their initial providers, that’s free market medicine at work.

When journalists imply that excluding diseases on a list of differential diagnoses in the midst of a workup or coming up with “inconclusive” results during testing is “wrong,” shouldn’t we start looking into journalistic malpractice?

“WhiteCoat” is an emergency physician who blogs at WhiteCoat’s Call Room at Emergency Physicians Monthly.

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