No News is Good News: Is Your Expert Service Provider also Honest?

The wife has been feeling a bit unwell with frequent abdominal aches for the past few weeks. (I am going to refer to my wife as “the wife” like the humorist Busybee used to in his articles in Mumbai’s “The Afternoon” so many years back – I used to find it so funny). So well – getting back, the wife has been a bit unwell. I have a mild version of hospital phobia, despite the wife being a doctor. In a sense, that works well because the wife takes health decisions for everyone at home – on which illness is to be neglected, when you should be happy with just some medicines and when an illness is to be taken seriously enough to visit the hospital. So this time, the wife being the patient, took a call that enough of medicines – it was time that she needed an “endoscopy”. So we finally got an appointment, went to the hospital and got it done. Well – after that, the surgeon called me in, and very dutifully showed me all the photographs and videos that the endoscope had recorded. I blankly nodded with a studious look pretending that I understood everything he said, as if I see the insides of stomachs day in and day out. And finally, at the end of it, he said something to this effect – there is nothing, it is all fine and normal. Just a bit of gastritis, let her manage her lifestyle and health, do not give her stress and things should go away. You do not worry.

Once I got out, I asked the wife – so you have no illness? No indeed. So there was no news as such. We got through a procedure and there was no news. Which actually was good news.

The wife was pretty cool about it. This happens all the time she said. Patients who feel they have a serious illness due to pain in the stomach turn out to be simple gastritis patients 80% of the time. As the conversation progressed, she continued – “In fact, doctors admit them just because patients refuse to go back often. And sometimes, not just that, the patient who is not ill ends up picking up an infection from the hospital! So, if you are seriously ill, your odds of getting better improve when you get admitted, but if you are not seriously ill, the odds of getting worse are more! Now you understand why I neglect most of your petty illnesses at home.” Towards the end, I thought that was not the doctor speaking, it was the wife.

Be that as it may, it sounded amazing to me – but then I guess doctors are people too, doctors are wives too. The wife continued – “But this doctor was good and honest too. He did not tell you that we will need to observe and prescribe something more. Maybe because I am a doctor here.”

So that was it – we found a doctor who was honest enough to tell us – you do not need me. And a patient who was obedient enough to listen to him.

This is not as common as it looks. Perhaps in medicine, you have more honest doctors and more obedient patients – because it is about your life and health. So the chances of coming across such doctors still is high – despite all the corporatisation of healthcare and the works. But it struck me that in other areas where people are supposed to be ‘doctors’ or experts in their fields, they do not always act with that kind of integrity. How many experts at auto service stations tell you when you take your car for a check up that “Your car does not need me”? How many accountants will tell you – well, everything is fine with your accounts, why don’t you file your returns yourself? How many financial advisers to whom you take your portfolio are honest enough to tell you “Your financial health is fine and this is why you do not need me”? And finally, how many of us would be happy with these kind of advisers, and like good patients – obedient enough to take their advise? Has it ever been the case that when you engaged some of these ‘doctors’ you were perfectly fine and then caught an infection?

Something to ponder upon. Well – the fact is that instances of finding experts who say – “you do not need me” are few and far between. It is possible that you do need some medicines some time, but if according to your expert, you need them all the time, perhaps it is time to change your doctor for these areas. Move to someone who gives you no news. Sometimes, no news can be good news.

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