Is Seeing a Specialist Always Best?
When people ask me about finding a doctor, I almost invariably tell them to see a headache specialist. Seeing someone with headache-specific knowledge is important because headache disorder education isn’t widespread. But is seeing a specialist always the best idea?
Dr. Aniruddha Malpani of The Patient’s Doctor writes:
Most patients want to go to the doctor who has special expertise in handling their particular problem. They will spend a lot of time and energy tracking down the “biggest name in the field” – and then leave everything up to the doctor. This can often be a short-sighted approach, because specialists are biased, and it’s important to be aware of this bias.
While it’s true that an expert has a lot of experience in dealing with a particular problem, this extensive experience also introduces all sorts of bias in the way he handles this particular problem. There are many reasons for this.
Because he is used to seeing complex cases which have been referred to him, he often cannot deal with simple bread and butter problems ! He also sees life through a distorted lens, and may not be able to see the big picture. Because he cannot afford to make mistakes, he often overtests and overtreats. He often asks for esoteric and expensive (and painful) tests, to differentiate himself from the other ordinary doctors. He also usually bad-mouths alternative options of dealing with the problem – after all, this is his competition! He is reluctant to refer cases which he cannot handle, because this would damage his aura of omnipotence and omniscience.
Often, in the pursuit of narrow goals, he loses objectivity; and is more interested in doing research rather than treating patients. Many experts are so used to seeing only sick patients, that they often cannot recognize a normal variant!
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below or on the online support group and forum.