Dr. Brian Goldman is the host of the popular CBC radio show White Coat, Black Art. On May 27, 2011 Dr. Goldman talked about illnesses that, as he puts it, “get little respect from the medical community.” He says that doctors are trained to disrespect certain illnesses, such as ME/CFS and FM (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia).
Dr. Goldman interviews Dr. Jacalyn Duffin, a haematologist and medical historian at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario who says that some diseases are greeted with contempt by members of the medical profession. Dr. Duffin explains that diseases like ME/CFS and FM are problematic because they’re “loaded with symptoms but have no objective findings to prove the diagnosis.”
Doctors are trained to look for a cause and a cure in their treatment of patients and in their definition of disease. ME/CFS and FM are in the category of illnesses where it just is not known yet what the cause and cure might be.
Dr. Goldman suggests another reason why doctors disrespect illnesses like ME/CFS and FM: they fear them. They fear they’ll have to stick their necks out endorsing a claim for long-term disability that many of the sufferers of these illnesses request. They’re afraid that a colleague will write a report that contradicts the physician’s endorsement of the claim of disability. Also, doctors worry that patients may be tricking them into writing sick notes when they don’t ‘look’ particularly ill or disabled.
If a condition has a lot of symptoms but not a lot of objective proof, doctors doubt that it is a genuine condition. It didn’t used to be like that. Haematologist and medical historian
Dr. Duffin says “Back then [the 18th-Century], all we physicians had to go on were your symptoms. Had ME/CFS or FM been discovered in the 18th-century, it would have fit the definition of a disease to a ‘T’. But not today. ”
Dr. Goldman concludes by saying “The way doctors treat people with ME/CFS and FM shows just how out of touch emotionally we are with our patients. In my opinion, it’s time MDs got back to the idea that our job is not just to treat disease but also to help people who are suffering because of it. Expressions of disbelief – much less scorn – have no place in the consulting room. Objective proof is essential in measuring response to therapy. But it should never be used as a stick to beat patients whose only misfortune is to contract a disease that’s difficult to verify.”
To listen to Dr. Brian Goldman’s May 27, 2011 show Diseases That Get No Respect