We all go by numbers when making important decisions. It’s all about statistics, pros and cons, probabilities. This is especially true in the highly unpredictable field of healthcare. I say unpredictable because, just like each one of us have unique features, fingerprints, handwriting and thought processes, the way we react to treatments also varies. Hence, even though medications, surgical procedures and treatment protocols are made after a lot of research and clinical trials, doctors still do not get the same response in every patient.

Doctors are taught to practice keeping in mind statistics and probabilities regarding diseases, diagnosis,  treatment and complications. Doctors make decisions based on these statistics. For example, while making a  diagnosis we might consider what is the most common cause of the symptoms at a particular age in a given gender? What is the least common cause? Based on these statistics the patient’s condition is evaluated further.  The use of statistics thus brings a certain predictability in treatment.

Now where can things go wrong? When statistics are used superficially, for instance in advertising. If a surgeon says he has performed a particular procedure over 100 times, it is assumed that he must be an expert. To some extent, that assumption is correct, as we may assume that he/she would have faced many complications during this. But the important question is: has that person learnt from those mistakes and have the outcomes improved?    So, my dear friends, when choosing a doctor/surgeon, don’t go by the numbers (age and procedures). Instead   judge them based on your discussion. Did they answer all your queries and address your concerns? Have they discussed potential complications with you and explained to you how these could be tackled? Did they discuss all the available treatment options?

The key point is to give importance to outcomes. Don’t just talk to people who have responded well to a particular kind of treatment. Make sure you also talk to those who have been less fortunate and ask them how their doctor handled it. After all, it is how we act during difficult times that brings out our true character. And the next time you or a family member are advised to undergo a medical procedure, don’t ask the doctor “how many times have you done this before?”, instead ask what are the complications expected and what would be the likely outcomes of every complication. Also ask your doctor about how the complications can be dealt with. It is good to know what the chances of developing a complication are, but it’s more important to make sure you know how to deal with the complication because life is essentially unpredictable and so is treatment.

Let us stop getting fooled with numbers and statistics in every aspect of our life. Let us be brave and accept the facts of life. Let us be prepared for unpredictable events and be grateful for the good health and happy moments we have experienced in life.

(This post is dedicated to all doctors who are working selflessly and tirelessly, to give the best outcome to their patients)

Dr Karuna