November 13, 2007
Richard Stengel, Time Magazine
Time & Life Bldg, Rockefeller Center
1271 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10020
Dear Mr. Stengel:
I am writing regarding Dr. Scott Haig’s Nov. 8, 2007 article in Time, titled “When the Patient Is a Googler.” As a patient advocate, I am very dismayed at how Dr. Haig has derisively labeled empowered, informed healthcare consumers as “Googlers,” and even more derogatorily, as “brainsuckers.”
Dr. Haig deliberately highlights as his example of a “Googler” his experience with a truly obnoxious patient -- one who also brings along an ill-behaved and screeching toddler to her appointment. But while we “tsk tsk” right along with him at this shrill and pushy know-it-all and her screaming “little monster,” as Dr. Haig calls him, it’s easy to miss the real message behind Dr. Haig’s account: Just like misbehaving toddlers, patients should be seen and not heard.
Dr. Haig complains about his patient’s “excruciatingly well-informed questions.” When she is discussing medical topics with him, he ridicules her “misused, mispronounced words.” He describes her self-concern as “utter selfishness.” He laments that “by the time they come in, they've visited many other docs already — somehow unable to stick with any of them.” He complains bitterly that these patients “have many complaints, which rarely translate to hard findings on any objective tests.” And, worst of all for him, “they talk a lot.”
We get the point. Dr. Haig is irritated and inconvenienced by educated, empowered -- and yes, sometimes demanding and illogical -- patients. But Dr. Haig needs to realize that many patients must be “Googlers” -- for some it’s truly a matter of life and death. To navigate the health care maze, patients must ask smart, well-informed questions. Patients must do their research, and attempt to speak “medicalese” -- and yes, they will pronounce things incorrectly and make mistakes -- just like doctors do. Patients will have complaints that can't all be quantified on a test. Patients will talk -- sometimes a lot. And patients will frequently have to see multiple doctors, not to annoy them as Dr. Haig implies, but rather because the doctors don’t have the time, skills, knowledge or patience to provide proper evaluation, diagnosis and treatment. Some of us have to kiss a lot of frogs, Dr. Haig, before we find a prince.
Health care is complicated enough. I hope that patients reading Dr. Haig’s article are not further discouraged from becoming educated, speaking up, asking questions, and advocating for themselves.
Mary J. Shomon