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Book Review: Your Doctor Said WHAT? by Dr. Terrie Wurzbacher

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What has been your experience with going to the doctor? Have you had to wait? Have you felt flustered when he finally got to you because he seemed so rushed? Have you felt confused by his medical lingo, overwhelmed by all the tests and then perplexed by the array of pills you had to take, all the while fighting niggling fears: does he really know what’s going on; does he care? If any or all of these things have been your experience, Dr. Terrie Wurzbacher’s book, Your Doctor Said WHAT? – Exposing the Communication Gap will resonate with you.

Within the sixteen chapters of this book physician cum patient Wurzbacher names and explores challenges faced by patients and their doctors in the present-day overburdened U.S. health system (many of which are undoubtedly present in health systems within developed countries around the world – certainly Canada).

She starts out by contrasting fatherly Marcus Welby, TV doctor figure of the past, with the modern doctor who is perpetually in a hurry, without the time or patience to listen to the ill person’s side of the story, fixated on doing tests and prescribing pills, and demanding the patient’s compliance even though he has often not taken the time to explain what’s wrong and what the tests and pills are meant to accomplish.

Some additional issues Wurzbacher tackles are the unrealistic expectations both doctors and patients have of each other, the lack of respect and empathy doctors appear to have toward patients, the difficulty for patients already in pain and distress to deal with a complicated and slow-moving system, and the variety of other places patients can go for medical help and advice – from the internet to alternative medicine providers.

Wurzbacher does a good job of talking about the problem. Besides over 30 years’ experience as a physician, she has also been a patient and it’s as an advocate for patients she is most effective. In fact, chapters 1-13 are written almost solely from the patient’s point of view. Her description of what it’s like to be a patient will reassure fellow sufferers that they are not alone.

However, to make the book jacket’s pronouncement come true: “This controversial book should be … in each doctor’s office,” it will also need to be read and endorsed by physicians. Though Wurzbacher’s tone through much of the book seems designed to irritate fellow physicians, her polemic does finally become more balanced when she gets to Chapter 14, “In the Doctor’s Defense,” where she gives reasons why doctors often act as they do.

The final chapter, “Tips for Doctors” contains a valuable list of tips and ideas all doctors would be wise to read (e.g. “Use email and bulletin boards – Develop an email system to deal with patients and their concerns after they leave. If you develop an efficient system, then you’ll be able to deal with all their questions and address changes of treatment and advice on side effects…”).

Wurzbacher’s writing style is easy to read, chatty and made punchy in places with sarcastic humor and snappy back-talk:

“You’re sitting there in THE ROOM in THE SKIMPY LITTLE GOWN, waiting, shivering and trying to stay calm, although disgusted and totally alone. You could die in there and who would know until the next time they’re scheduled to come in and tell you that “the doctor will be with you in a moment”? They’d just find your pathetic body lying on the vinyl floor, frozen.”

Scattered amongst Wurzbacher’s argument development within each chapter are interesting personal anecdotes that illustrate her points, and quotes about the practice of medicine from the likes of medical writers like Sir William Osler.

The book is attractively laid out. Each page has large headlines, text broken up into small chunks, and variety used in the font, which all work together to create a book that invites one to read. Something the book would have benefited from, though, is a good line edit. There are many many glitches with words missing, wrong words used, instances of verb / noun disagreement, even a page numbering and collation problem.

Even so, Your Doctor Said WHAT? is definitely a worthwhile read. Physicians who really do care about their patients will benefit if they take its criticisms to heart. Patients will be empowered to be more proactive in their own care.

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About Violet Nesdoly