Why do some patients go to the doctor in the first place?

William was doing great.  His C. Diff  was finally gone after a month taper of vancomycin.  He was stronger.  The nursing home staff reveled in how much progress was being made over such little time.  It seemed every one was ecstatic, except for, of course his family.  Every step this octogenarian took forward was accompanied by a litany of concerns and complaints from his daughter.

If he was not gaining weight, she wanted to know why.  If he then put on a few pounds, she wanted his diet restricted.  Through each “emergency” I calmly talked her down.  I often spent thirty minutes a day defending each minute order that was placed. And through all the commotion, I was able to withstand the barrage because I knew that William was getting better and would go home soon where his daughter could torture him instead of me.

A few days before discharge, I received yet another panicked phone call.  William had cloudy urine and his daughter wanted me to put him on an antibiotic for a urinary tract infection.  I dutifully hurried to the bedside and asked a series of questions.  He had no burning, no pain, no frequency, no hesitancy and no fevers or back pain.  I called his daughter and explained that cloudy urine, and even bacteria in the urine, are not indications of infection, and given the history I believed an antibiotic would do more harm than good.  This answer while appeasing for a moment, quickly became unsatisfactory the next day.  So there were more phone calls, and more discussions reiterating how it was inappropriate to treat with antibiotics when there were no active signs of infection in this elderly high risk patient.

But William’s daughter was smarter than I.  She waited till the night before discharge and called the doctor covering for me.  He, faced with little information and an agitated family member, was easily convinced to call in a antibiotic prescription for discharge.  I never even found out about it.

Until, that is, when I ran into his primary care physician while rounding at the hospital.  William was back in the ICU.  He suffered severe dehydration and sepsis do to (you guessed it) C. Diff.  A complication of his recent and unnecessary antibiotic use.

These type of situations happen all the time.  And while I am a big proponent of empowered patients and families, lately it seems that many really want to be managing their own care without the benefit of our experience and years of training.  In other word, they just don’t want to listen to us.  This is fine.

But why come to the doctor in the first place?

Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion.

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