healthcare advocate


Some of this may be a little gross, but it is important to read this in becoming your own healthcare advocate.

I went to a dermatologist today to have a plantar wart treated.  Plantar warts are unpleasant.  They are warts that grow on the bottom of the foot.  They make every step feel like there is a pebble in your shoe.  As the warts grow so does the pain.

After numerous over the counter treatments and old wives tale remedies that failed to shrink the wart, I decided to have it professionally treated.

I met the dermatologist.  She was a newer doctor and not one that I recognized from the practice when I visited a few years earlier.

She examined my foot and was indecisive about my lesion.  She was thinking out loud and settled on a diagnosis of a callous.

In my opinion she was misdiagnosing my problem.  I have had warts through most of my life and was quite familiar with their characteristics: cauliflower looking skin, black dots in the middle, regrowth after trimming, etc.

When the Dr, seemed committed to the callous diagnosis I had a pit in my stomach.  I don’t go to the doctor often and for me to have my chief complaint minimized felt frustrating.

In a split second I needed to make a big decision… Do I accept the diagnosis that I believe is wrong and leave the office dissatisfied?  Or… do I advocate for myself with the understanding that the doctor will be offended that I am questioning her judgement.  So many things could go wrong for me.  She could think I am questioning her because she is a female (untrue).  She could think I am questioning her because I think she is young (untrue).  None of these are good outcomes and will lead to extreme awkwardness whether I am right or wrong.

I decided to go for it.

I very politely told her…”with all due respect to you and your training, I believe my experience is consistent with a plantar wart.  Can you have a peer consult and take a look?”

She was clearly irritated and left the room as she told me she would ask a partner to look.

After a 20 minute wait, the partner came in and examined my foot.  He manipulated it in a way that was different than her style.  The results from his physical manipulation were different than when she did it.  He looked through a special magnifying glass lined with lights.

When he looked up from the visual exam, he asked her “did you use this?”

She said yes.

But in that moment I knew I was right and she was wrong.

The senior doctor smiled and shook my hand as I thanked him for his time and flexibility.

He said that he and the other doctor would discuss outside and be right back.  Again, I immediately knew that this meant she did not make the correct diagnosis.

When the original dermatologist re-entered the room she said that the senior doctor thinks it “may” be a wart I was not surprised.  We agreed to try freezing the wart and she applied the treatment.

In the end, my decision to break societal norms and question the expert led to a more useful visit for me.  I feel badly that the clinically trained doctor made a mistake.  I also feel badly that she will probably be angry and may telling herself I questioned her because of her gender.  Hopefully, she will be self aware and think about it at the end of the day to learn from the experience.

As for me, advocating for myself was rewarding.  Too often we accept experts as dogma.  In my case the results of a misdiagnosis would not be too impactful, but if it were for a more meaningful health issue the impact could be of life or death.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and do not be embarrassed or ashamed to persist until you are satisfied with the answers.

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