I go to the doctor. I say, “I have an earache.”
She looks in my ear and says, “Your ear is red and inflamed. It looks infected.”
She asks me about my other symptoms and I say that I have had a bad cold for a week.
Then she says, “Here is a prescription for eardrops.”
I am left very unsatisfied…
In fact that is not what my own doctor would do.
She would say something like, “I can see that it is infected but I can’t tell where the source of the infection is. It could be local to your ear, or it could be caused by infection from the cold that you have. If it is a bacterial infection then antibiotics are indicated. But to establish whether this is a bacteria or a virus we have to do a lab test. It is important to minimize prescribing antibiotics so that new strains of germs resistant to the antibiotic don’ t have a chance to develop. So what I recommend is that we start with some topical antibiotic in the form of ear drops while we wait for the lab work to come back to see if you have a virus.”
I get enough of her thinking process to be satisfied that the factors she is taking into account are the ones that I think are important. I trust that her education and experience and skill lead her to make the best recommendation. I don’t need to do all the thinking through myself: I am happy to rely on her skill and knowledge to do that work. I trust that she has asked all the questions which could be relevant to do an assessment of what is wrong with my throbbing ear.
I understand and accept that all medical diagnosis is a process of trial and error: try the most likely thing first; if that doesn’t work, take that information and try something else.
We often end up agreeing to try X and if that doesn’t work after a period of time we will try Y.
And that’s the important part. I feel like a partner in the process.