The Nation's Health + [Self-directed health]

Self-directed health: My sister called today . . .

My younger sister, aged 48 years (sorry, sis), called this morning.

"I'm going to my doctor today. What labs should I tell him to draw?" she asked.

"Why do you have to tell him? Can't you just ask him what he thinks should be drawn?"

"No," she said. "He just draws what I tell him to."

Maybe my sister is bossier than most. But I've heard this from many patients, as well. They go to their primary care physician and end up requesting this or that test. Sometimes their doctor complies. Often, they resist and refuse to do so.

I've heard many complaints from patients about doctors refusing to order even fairly benign tests like a vitamin D blood level or lipoproteins, even a C-reactive protein.

The number of these sorts of complaints seems to be growing. Ten years ago, it rarely happened. Today, I hear this nearly every day.

I think it is symptomatic of the growing discontent we all have with the status quo in healthcare. We are all expected to submit to the paternalistic, what-can-you-possibly-know mentality that still rules the day in medical offices. Only 40-50 years ago, if you wanted to look at a medical book, you'd have to ask the librarian for special permission so that they could make sure you weren't just a pervert trying to look at naked bodies. Today, every manner of medical and health information can be found online. Quite a contrast.

We are entering a new age, one in which people are far better informed, have surfed the internet and read media reports on health topics, have been exposed to drug company advertising, and know a fair amount about nutritional supplements. I think the system needs to change to accommodate this rapidly growing hyper-knowledgeable society.

In past, when a health problem turned up, you'd turn to your doctor first. I predict that,in the next few years, we will use the doctor as a place of last resort , the person we turn to when all else has failed, after you've exhausted your information sources.

I hope that the Track Your Plaque process will become one of the engines of change, an information resource that provides empowering tools that don't replace your doctor, but provide many information tools that are superior and may minimize your reliance on a health care provider.

Copyright 2007 House, MD