Gambling with our Healthcare

Do you know Ben Thrower, MD, medical director medical director of the MS Institute at Shepherd Center? I have not had the privilege to meet him in person, but I continue to come across presentations by him and am always impressed. I’m so impressed I would even consider traveling down Interstate 75 to Atlanta to have him as my neurologist, if it weren’t 500 miles away and that I am also very happy with my own neurologist.

My latest encounter was on the MS Views and News YouTube Learning Channel, where I listened to Dr. Thrower discuss communicating with our health care providers. Straight up he made a statement that resonates with me and can’t be emphasized enough – we should not play poker with our healthcare providers.

I’m a great fan of analogies and metaphors and Dr. Thrower must be too, because every talk I hear from him contains great relatable examples, and playing poker with my doctor is yet another one. Think about the game of poker – what is the route you have to take to win? Yes, you have to conceal the cards in your hand and master the art of not allowing even your slightest facial movements to betray that secret hand. This technique may be great in Las Vegas or some smoky back room gaming parlor, but in the doctor’s exam room it just won’t give us winning results. We have to be willing to disclose everything and not hold back.

I often wonder about the consequences if I weren’t able to be totally honest with my doctors – and that isn’t even just in the ability to answer their questions posed directly to me. It includes my being willing to show my hand and reveal everything in that exam room. On a large scale I’m sure we all do the same and play the “I’m fine” joker card when asked ‘how are you?’ by the doctor. We don’t want to complain because all of us know it could always be worse, so we tend to suck it up and hide what we might really be thinking. It makes the job of our doctors much harder if we can’t be honest up front. The doctor often has to spend a lot of time just coaxing us to show our hand and admit we are less than fine.

A more direct example might be the doctor may assume I am taking my meds as prescribed and not ask that direct question – ‘are you taking all of your drugs?’ If I know I am not taking them, it is up to me to tell the doctor ‘I just can’t take another pill or shot’ or whatever and have an honest discussion on what is keeping me from doing what’s been prescribed. I can’t wait for that question because it might not come up in our limited time together.

The point is our doctors can’t be expected to know what the right questions are that they should ask to get us to reveal what we might be holding back. Playing poker with our doctors can only have one loser – that is our health. Each time we are in that exam room, it is up to us to lay out our cards and let the whole hand be seen.

Wishing you well,


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