Listen to Your Gut
By Andrew Ellsworth, M.D.
The patient knew something was wrong. After appointments with several specialists, multiple scans, and tests, she was given a diagnosis. Still, she felt certain something was not right. I sat down with her and listened. We repeated a test she had a year prior, and this time the test garnered a different result. There was a tumor growing. She listened to her gut, she persisted and with an accurate diagnosis she got the medical care she needed.
Usually, it does not help to repeat a medical test. Nine times out of ten the result is the same. However, if as a patient, you get that feeling that something is amiss, seek out answers and find someone who will listen. That does not mean you need every possible test. Tests are costly. They are only a tool and using the wrong tool can cause more harm than good.
Physicians are adeptly trained in the application of the tools of medicine. Throughout college, four years of medical school and another three or more years of residency training, an M.D. or D.O. invests over 10,000 to 15,000 clinical hours while learning the art of medicine. Ideally, as physicians gain experience and confidence, we learn to discern when a test is needed, and how to avoid an unnecessary test.
Most importantly, a well-trained physician learns that listening to the patient history is a more powerful tool than any test. The history is the story of the patient’s current and past symptoms as told by the patient. It does not come from the chart, is not in a textbook, and cannot be determined by a blood test or CT scan. To obtain it, a physician must listen.
Unfortunately, physicians often interrupt a patient within the first 10 to 15 seconds of the visit. Pressures from time, from documentation, from insurance companies, and from the next patient that is waiting can contribute to the detriment of the interview. However, with careful listening and guidance from the physician, the patient will frequently provide all that is needed to reach an accurate diagnosis.
We can all learn more by listening. Whether listening to our bodies, our family, our friends, or even our adversaries, it is time well spent. When we take the time to listen, we are one step closer to the truth. You’ll feel it in your gut.
Andrew Ellsworth, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on SDPB most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.