The Benefits and Risks of Self-Diagnosing Health Conditions and Self-Prescribing Treatments

The Benefits and Risks of Self-Diagnosing Health Conditions and Self-Prescribing Treatments

By Dr. Bruce Gustafsen

Do your patients sometimes bring their own solutions to the treatment room?

With wide access to all sorts of health and medical information and products these days,  the chances are pretty good.

Many of our patients, understandably, look to the web to be better informed. Some of this access contributes to informed understanding, decision-making and availability of helpful products, and this can indeed be a good thing for many. But such access is also being used to self-diagnose, self-prescribe and self-treat in ways that can inaccurately address that client’s very unique patterns, physiology and constitution, and can lead to self-selecting products and treatments that are at best ineffective. This is where we, as trained acupuncturists and East Asian Medicine practitioners often need to step in.

The old patient-healthcare practitioner model was one in which “patient” deferred that responsibility to the medical “experts.” In times past, the uninformed patient followed the advice of the doctor or practitioner, without question, and often as a consequence, never took any active part in their own health or understood their own role in a healing process, which we now know is an important aspect in maintaining one’s health. More often is the case now, health seekers in our contemporary world want to be informed, and more personally involved in their health care. This is an important evolution in assuming personal responsibility for all the elements of ones own well being, yet an approach that can have some limitations and pitfalls.

Our Traditional Chinese Medicine model uses the tree analogy when explaining the dynamics of health imbalances; there is the concept of both root and branch of a particular symptom or illness. While this can be an oversimplification, the root of course is the true source pattern of the issue, while the branch can be simply the symptom of how the imbalanced pattern manifests in the body, mind or spirit. A “headache” would be considered a branch symptom, while the root could be from any number of differing causative factors or imbalances. From our acupuncture training it is not wholly or always incorrect to think of treating the branch of an issue, and sometimes that is warranted as the first or truest option; but the source of one’s “headache” could be attributed to multiple factors that were different for each person. Even from a Western standpoint, any one or more of many of these familiar “roots” could be the true origin of the headache: stress and muscular tension in the neck and shoulders; lack of quality sleep for a long period of time; heavy metal toxicity or drug/medication reactions; menstrual cycle imbalances; too much sun exposure; hypertension; photophobia; dehydration, and of course other causes. Typically, Western Medicine, Internet symptom searches and our patients do not grasp this distinction.

We are often asked by patients in our practice: “Can you give me something for my insomnia?” “Can you help treat this cough I’ve had for weeks?” “I’ve had hypertension now for years, can acupuncture and herbs help?” The answer to all of these is certainly, yes, but there is more to it than looking at the branch complaint – the insomnia, the cough, the hypertension, the catchword named symptom. This is where we differ from the Western model that is more familiar to many patients. It’s up to us, as trained health care practitioners, to discern and treat these deeper root patterns to facilitate a better healing result, and of course not to mask any issues or send the root patterns of the imbalance elsewhere in the body/mind/spirit of the client; I’m suggesting that it might be equally important to educate any of our internet savvy, self-diagnosing patients accordingly.

A good portion of the health care information and product out there seems to reinforce the approach of treating the catchword diagnosis or symptom. Healthcare products and treatment solutions are often marketed or presented to the consumer using this “name-the-branch method;” and while the intention or integrity of such information or product might be sound, the uninformed use of such approaches or products could be problematic, or at the least, inadequate.

To rely solely upon whatever name-the-branch information or product is out there in the online or other trendy media resource for self-diagnosis and treatment presents risk and requires careful consideration. This is why it remains important for a collaborative care model between patient and a trusted practitioner; the health-seeking patient brings in as much input as they care to explore about themselves; we, as informed acupuncture practitioners, bring the training, our herbal product knowledge and holistic perspective to each unique patient centered treatment. Such sharing of knowledge about one’s illness, health imbalances and available product and treatments is relevant to each individual, as we are all profoundly unique in our make up and our responses to treatments. In this way we can realize optimum care that is very personal, and helps result in a correctly informed, focused and successful treatment outcome with even better patient compliance.

In each unique, person centered healing process, usually one size does not fit all.



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Tag: Patient Education