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Is there a Cure for Medical Bullshit?

Yes, I believe there is. I say “believe” because a cure for medical BS hasn’t been proven yet in a randomized trial. I say “believe” because the cure hinges on an article of faith; to quote Neil Degrasse-Tyson, “I think anybody—unless there’s brain damage—can learn anything.” (As a neurologist, I would add that many people with brain damage can learn quite a lot.)  Lastly, I say “believe” even though many people believe a cure for medical BS is impossible. These naysayers feel the BS is too big of a problem to be solved; that BS has always been with us, and will only get worse; that human nature is such that there will always be charlatans and suckers; that some people are so far down their intellectual black-holes that they can never be saved. I too see all of these things, and yet, I remain an optimist…Or, as Hans Rosling says in his wonderful book Factfullness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things are Better Than You Think, I consider myself a possibilist.

The formula is simple, but it is not always easy.

First, you must learn to see with the eyes of skeptic. With any type of change, awareness is always the first step. This means changing the way you read medical information, see news stories and books, and hear medical advice. I created a tool that anyone can easily download, The Medical BS Detector—a great first step to help change your mindset and start seeing through the BS.

Second, you must learn to think with the mind of a scientist. This means balancing being truly curious and open-minded (ask: could this be true?) with some serious critical thinking skills (ask: does the evidence presented truly support the claims being made?). While you won’t need to buy a Bunsen burner or microscope, you will need to learn how to find, read and evaluate scientific articles. (Don’t worry, it’s easier than it sounds. We will get into this in some later blogs (you’ll find them here if you want to bookmark this page).

Third, you must learn to speak with the mouth of a doctor. When doctors, and family members of doctors, seek medical care, they are able to get more out of their visits and better treatment because they know what questions to ask. This is not about trusting or not trusting doctors and other providers; rather it is about learning how best to work with them to get what you need. You too can get more from your healthcare visits, and make your doctor a better doctor, by coming prepared with meaningful questions and checklists.

Fourth, you must learn to advocate with the heart of a hero. It may sound trite to say this, but your health and well-being is your most precious possession. We often don’t seriously think about the decisions we make (or the things we allow to happen by not making active decisions) that affect our life and the lives of those we love. As one example, which is more important: asking for a second opinion when you feel unsure about a doctor’s advice OR avoiding the chance you might upset that doctor’s ego? Reminding yourself to connect with what’s most important can give you the courage to speak up and act as a powerful advocate in a healthcare system that needs your involvement to care as much about you and your well-being as you deserve.


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