Figuring \w+ out

Why not to ask doctors for their advice


The danger #

While not tho focus of the EconTalk episode Vinay Prasad on Cancer Screening Russ Roberts raises the dilema of asking your doctor what they would do when facing a health care situation:

…where there's uncertainty and a financial stake, it's often helpful to ask the doctor, let's say you're helping your mother or dealing with some health crisis. You say to the doctor, "Well, if this was your mother, what would you do?"

The problem with asking the doctor who performs these procedures is:

But of course, if you're doing these procedures, you've probably convinced yourself.

I often lean on the advice of those providing a service. I am overly sensitive to the possibility of being sold something. But I usually do not take into account the fact that the people providing the service are biased. They have a strong belief in the service they provide.

Further illustration #

This dilemma reminds me of the EconTalk episode Megan McArdle on the Oedipus Trap. In this episode they discuss Walter Freeman, who crafted the technique of using a pick like device inserted through the eye socket to perform lobotomies. He spent the end of his life tracking down former patients trying to confirm his belief that his procedure was beneficial.

It makes sense he would be so firmly rooted in believing his procedure was beneficial. To believe otherwise means he would have to come to terms with performing tremendous harm and destroying the lives of many. His life provides a great example of why asking your doctor what they would do in your position may be a bad idea.

In reflection #

If I trust an authority then I place a high value on their guidance. I believe their guidance is often accurate. But at times they may overprescribe their service, because that is what they have persuaded themselves to be helpful.

I still believe it is wise to ask for guidance from an authority, but I'll be seconding guessing doing so and examining more closely what they have to say.