Care Wars: The Patient Strikes Back.

A heart and ECG over a stethoscope in the background.

Audio:

The conflict between chronic illness patients & over-worked medics is nothing new.Medics are under intense pressure to work through cases quickly & cheaply, not having the time to listen to patients properly, increasing the chances of mistakes being made, & providing the absolute minimum & often ineffective medical care possible. Patients feel frustrated that they aren’t listened to or believed, resulting in avoidable mistakes, & particularly the attitude of superiority often gets under our skin. Every time I hear “don’t confuse a google search with a medical degree”, I want to add “don’t confuse your medical degree with years of lived experience of relentless illness”. Both sides have valid points, & being a chronically ill nutritionist working in medical research gives me a distinctly unique perspective on the situation.

Recently this old conflict seems to be coming to a head. Several people working in the medical field (please note that they are not necessarily medics, & in fact often turn out to be medical technicians rather than nurses or doctors, who frankly don’t have the time to make these posts) have taken to social media to mock patients with chronic illnesses, claiming that they can tell when we’re faking it. Given that I was clearly faking my symptoms for eleven years until finally one doctor decided to open me up to find me riddled with endometriosis, I have strong feelings about this mockery. If you are brave enough to venture into the comments of such posts, for every post agreeing & mocking chronic illness, there are three or four stories of medics refusing to believe patients for years, if not decades. In some cases, people were posting on behalf of friends or relatives to share these stories, because this behaviour & disbelief had resulted in death.

The controversy these posts cause highlights a wider problem; that patients & doctors are often considered to be enemies. In reality, most people enter the medical field because they have a desire to help people (I know I did), & without patients, medics wouldn’t have a job at all. Patients & medics should be working together, with patients being able to trust in a medical professional’s knowledge & expertise, & doctors listening to their patients & hearing their concerns more carefully. We cannot have one group without the other, making the conflict pointless, if not dangerous.

Sadly, the conflict is only escalated by the media depicting chronic illness patients as scammers who simply want access to drugs, meaning that patients with certain diagnoses are at a disadvantage when working with medics.  This reputation, alongside the irresponsible social media posts that mock people, escalates the issue beyond all recognition.

I strongly believe that medicine should follow one of the main principles of law; innocent until proven guilty. Instead of jumping to conclusions about a patient before they even open their mouth, if a medic thinks someone is just a drug addict looking for their next hit, they should have to provide evidence to support this conclusion. The same goes for if they believe someone is faking symptoms for access to medicine or money. There are of course problems with this system, as with any, & with the NHS in its current state it could never take hold. However, the conflict between medics & patients would be practically non-existent if there was a sense of respect between both sides.

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