Hydrocephalus: Are doctors biased?

Hydrocephalus: Are doctors biased?

A hydro warrior asked me this week: “If you’ve ever gone for a second opinion, have you ever felt the second opinion judging you because of previous treatment you’ve received?

I had to smile at this question because not only have I sought a second opinion but I’ve lost count as to the number of times I’ve done this AND my response is a resounding YES! I’ve felt this way for so long and every time I have a consult with someone new, I inevitably leave their room with my tail between my legs. Feeling like I’ve failed myself…yet again! I don’t necessarily go in with this aim in mind. In fact, I’ve gone in countless times – 100% hopeful of receiving better…

Ironically, the crux of her question is a conclusion I’ve drawn so many times before. I’ve literally thought: “There must be some amount of bias with these Medical professionals”, especially when their treatment feels like de ja vu and I don’t ultimately feel listened to or taken seriously.

Bear with me…

Maybe not the best comparison but it’s the only one I can draw as it makes sense to me. Hopefully it will to you too:

At the start of my career, being a Secretary for a while, I wanted something different and challenging where I could use the skills I have, to my full potential. So, I ventured into an IT support role.

You deal with staff (referred to as users in the IT world), much like at a hospital emergency department – never knowing what will show up on the day or what technical issue you would have to solve (despite your current workload). Sometimes putting in long hours when a complex technical issue comes your way. There’s handover of certain problems, either because they are outside of your skillset or because you’re on a roster and taking over something someone else has started. During your consult, when you give a doctor your medical history and background, they ask certain questions to ascertain what any treating doctor, before them, said or done in terms of your treatment. Sometimes, they want to know what their thinking was and even what your opinion is on the matter.

Your tone and attitude probably have an impact at this point too…
If a colleague of mine had a bad experience with a user, I’d hear about it as part of the handover, almost like being forewarned. Admittedly, coming from a country where racism is rife, the amount of bias did not escape me (it went both ways between support staff and user) – something I needed to bear in mind and not be influenced by. (This can be easier said than done for some). However, understanding the difficulties they encountered, are useful to an extent, be it human or technical. To say it didn’t affect the way in which I approached the user at first, would be untrue. I’m not saying I’d go in with a negative attitude, just prepared in case I had the same experience as my colleague. At some point after, they highly likely talk to your previous doctor about you (to gather further info) and will be influenced by any bias which may have been formed. Most times I’ve heard a new Neurosurgeon say, “Oh I know Dr x, he/she is very good”. (Sometimes they add, “I may just reach out to them). At this point I cringe because I already know where it will end, especially when there’s a reason why I’m sitting in front of a new doctor and not Dr x! I’ve even been told that there’s a possibility that I’ve been “misdiagnosed”, as I intuitively pick up on the doctor doubting previous care I have received, purely because I come from a “Third world country” (I hate this stupid term simply because the world is ONE big round ball!).
I’ve also had experiences where my interaction with the user was more favourable than what my colleagues had. I believe this is because my approach is different towards others, usually seeing the person and trying to understand their reaction or reason for “being difficult”. Putting myself in their shoes and being cognisant of the fact that I have the technical expertise to sort out their issue and they don’t. That doesn’t mean they don’t know any better because the input they have, is valuable in diagnosing the problem, and even finding a solution. Therefore, I learned to listen.Their approach will forever be tainted if they don’t have an open mind and think outside their textbook. Regardless of their skill, having a terrible bedside manner or a god-like complex, is enough to put me off and running in the other direction (some patients believe this is more important – to each their own).

An incurable condition, with the potential to kill you, is not something any patient can/does take lightly. It’s always there whether you think about it 100% or 10% of the time.  
Recognising the frustration and having empathy for the way their issue impacts them, and prohibits them from achieving their deliverables, is just as essential as fixing the problem for them or providing a solution or workaround.

Being empathetic is something I’ve managed to perfect over time.
Some of them have not perfected the art of empathy or truly listening to their patients. They formulate an opinion before they even start taking everything into account. They decide that your current “quality of life” is acceptable regardless of your how it’s affecting you.

It’s almost as if they half make up their minds that if Dr x didn’t act or acknowledge your symptoms, then you must be another one of those “attention-seeking patients”.
In the end, it’s about building trust, respect and inevitably becoming their go-to person. They understand that you may not always be able to provide the solution but believe and trust enough in you to know that you might find a workaround and they’ll see you as human after all.
(This works both ways. I’ve been known to win over the most stubborn and more difficult of users).
Patients wouldn’t feel as lost, confused, frustrated, lonely, helpless, etc…as they do. People might actually get the help they need, based on their unique circumstances. I, personally, could live with a doctor who is more accessible and who takes me seriously without any bias or judgement. Inevitably, working as a team with them as opposed to me viewing them as the “bad guy”, all the time.  

*I acknowledge, being the go-to person can be draining, especially as your workload increases.

Now I realise this makes me sound all “conspiracy theory-ish” but, it is possible and does happen!

I don’t believe these doctors set out to be malicious or discredit their patients (I sincerely hope not). Some just suck at getting it right! I do, however, suspect many people have had this experience, which negatively impacts them, especially if the doctor doesn’t have an open mind or at the very least, some of the characteristics mentioned above.

This is our reality!

In my view, the medical system is stuffed all over the world (majority anyway). And, unfortunately, patients are the ones who suffer under it all.

Complex cases are pushed aside and left at the mercy of life akin to a, “life without parole” prison sentence. Unfortunately, I have had consultations with some doctors who think this is the more humane thing to do. That’s debatable…


  • Philip Mastromonico

    January 25, 2020 at 2:34 am Reply

    Sure, every doctor has biases. They have procedures they favor. My last experience, 2 years ago had me on the table 9 times in 2 months. Doc never had a case like mine, zero pressure. Would he have persisted through 9 surgeries if it wasn’t for the pressure I know my sister put him under?

    • Skyewaters

      January 25, 2020 at 8:41 pm Reply

      9 times in 2 months is a lot but with that said, it is our reality, one so many face. Unpredictable and scary at a minimum. Thanks for your comment😔

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