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Guest contributor, Dr. Peter Galgut, gives us the doctor’s perspective on demanding patients.


The Problem Doctor -- or The Problem Patient?

Dr Peter Galgut

Dr Peter Galgut PhD, MRDRCS is a senior research fellow at London University, and is a practising clinician specializing in the treatment of gum conditions and other problems that occur in the mouth.


 So there you are, hale and hearty -- and then something happens - you don't feel too good anymore. It's usually something fairly trivial and not life-threatening: perhaps a bad cold, or flu, or a tummy bug, or a sore throat, or any of the other numerous ailments that plague us from time to time. So what do you do? You go to the doctor -- and what does the doctor do? He gives you some medicine such as an antibiotic. And then?

Side Effects
And then you get the side effects --  and these are many. You feel sick and nauseous, maybe you have an upset tummy, feel light-headed  …. or suffer a headache.

More importantly, every time you take an antibiotic, the bacteria that are causing infection learn to cope with it. The next time you take the antibiotic it doesn't work -- you have develop­ed "resistant strains".

So the next time you run to the doctor you get a "stronger" antibiotic, and that works until the bacteria get resistance to that --  and the side-effects are more severe and you feel even worse. So you blame the anti­biotic, or the doctor for prescribing it in the first place.

The cycle is repeated until one day you have a real medical emergency and none of the antibiotics work any more -- you're left with only the resistant strains. Then, you blame the doctor for "not making you better” or not being able to give you an antibiotic that "works".

But whose fault is this? The vast majority of ailments that affect human beings are self-limiting, which means that they cure themselves without treatment.

Antibiotic Misuse
Moreover, antibiotics are only effective against bacteria and not viruses. They are ineffective against all colds and flu, and most throat and tummy ailments as well. So why take them in the first place?

Ah well, do I hear you say, "I take them because that's what the doctor tells me to take". So why do doctors give antibiotics so readily? They know only too well the side-effects and disadvantages of giving them and yet they continue to prescribe them.

Well the problem is not the doctors, but it's all of us! When we go to the doctor we expect to be a "cured". We expect an instant magic bullet -- something that will sort out the problem now. If you ask doctors why they prescribe antibiotics and other medicines so readily, they tell you that it is because patients demand them…

Furthermore, if they don't prescribe them, patients run to other doctors or even the Internet, to obtain their favorite antibiotic. It might be totally inappropriate for their condition and they often pay a significant fee -- but they are convinced it works for them, even though in reality it has no effect whatsoever.

So doctors bow to the inevitable and simply write out a prescription because that's what patients want and that's what they believe will cure them.

Doctors say that patients are simply not interested in discussing the body's own healing capacity and the possibility of maximizing "wellness" as opposed to "illness". Patients don’t want to hear about adopting a healthy lifestyle and sensible nutrition; they want the prescription and they want it now!

Of course, antibiotics, strong pain­killers, powerful drugs that alter hormonal balances and states of mind do have their place. But their place is not the first option when you feeling under the weather, but the last option to be used when all else has failed.

Heal Thyself
So next time you feel ill, rather than running to your doctor for a magic bullet in the form of an elusive, instant cure, why not look at the reasons why you're not well. Have you been eating properly and regularly and enjoying a sensible diet? Have you been overworking and not getting enough rest? Are you getting enough exercise; are you taking time out for relaxation and contemplation?  

Do you really need to rush off to the doctor to get some tablets when in fact you are going to get better anyway? And isn’t it sensible to give your body a chance to fight off the infection, suppress the bacteria that are causing it, or to heal the affected area and return your body to its natural balance in a state of "wellness"?

So who is the problem? The doctor who is browbeaten by his patients to write a prescription, or the patients who demand a prescription for every little minor ailment because they are not prepared to look after their bodies and minds and give themselves time to heal? I'll leave you to ponder the answer to that question!


Dr Peter Galgut PhD, MRDRCS is a senior research fellow at London University, and is a practising clinician specializing in the treatment of gum conditions and other problems that occur in the mouth.