Hitting a Nerve

Whatever “my last doctor” did, I don’t take the bait


In car repair, there’s a mysterious bogeyman known as “the last guy.”

“The last guy put it in wrong.”

“The last guy didn’t use the right part.”

“I have no idea what the last guy was thinking.”

In medicine, there’s “my last doctor.”

A doctor listens to a patient DMEPhotography/Getty Images

“My last doctor ordered the wrong test.”

“The medication, from my last doctor, almost killed me.”

“My last doctor didn’t know what he was doing.”

I don’t say anything, I just listen. Most of the time I’m not convinced the other doctor did anything wrong, and even if I were, I’d stay silent. Every doctor makes mistakes. It’s inevitable in any job.

Sometimes the patients mention this in passing, at other times they seem to be hoping for a response from me. I don’t give them one. Bashing other doctors is common enough as it is, and I’m not going to join in. My job is to do my best to help them, which is what the last doctor was trying to do, too.

Dr. Allan M. Block, a neurologist is Scottsdale, Ariz.

Dr. Allan M. Block

The fact is that you can’t make everyone happy. Outside competency and human errors, there are too many variables in human relationships – the chemistry between people – to know what went wrong. Some patients have legitimate grievances, others may just be nitpicking and looking for trouble. It’s not my role to address it. If the patients came here for that, they’re at the wrong place. Most of the time, I happen to know their previous physicians, and think they’re decent neurologists.

The problem with these types of things is that it propagates. Even if I do everything right, and try my best, there’s a good chance that, in a few months, I’ll be “my last doctor.” I can only hope the next doctor feels the same way about me as I do about the last one.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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