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Don't Let Your Doctor Kill You

In her new book, a physician says patients need to take power or risk serious harm

By Emily Gurnon

There is no doubt that doctors make mistakes, just like people in every other profession. Who hasn’t heard of a surgeon who removed the wrong organ or a gynecologist who missed the symptoms of ovarian cancer? Of course, when doctors fall short, the consequences can be deadly. They rightly should face more scrutiny.

In that way, Dr. Erika Schwartz has done a service with her recent book, Don’t Let Your Doctor Kill You: How to Beat Physician Arrogance, Corporate Greed and a Broken System. She does what most other physicians do not do: She dares to attack her fellow doctors, arguing that that medical care is often not only ineffective, but downright dangerous.

The book is sure to appeal to anyone who has had a bad experience with a doctor, hospital or drug company. I personally found Schwartz’s tone overly shrill and self-aggrandizing, however. (And I am deeply suspicious of doctors who sell expensive vitamins and supplements on their personal websites, as Schwartz does.)

But Don’t Let Your Doctor Kill You does contain some sound advice. Let us know what you think of the following excerpt by writing in the comments section at the end of the story.

From the Book

(The following is excerpted from Don’t Let Your Doctor Kill You: How to Beat Physician Arrogance, Corporate Greed and a Broken System by Erika Schwartz, M.D. Reprinted with permission.)


Too many people listen, without a question or complaint, to anyone in a white coat and the M.D. degree after their name. They accept the doctor’s treatment without hesitation. They put up with arrogance and rudeness in doctors who don’t even take the time to learn their names. They undergo invasive tests whose purpose and outcomes are never clearly explained….many have been herded like cattle into surgeries they were convinced were life-saving without a second or third opinion, or even thinking they could consider other options. They never want to upset the doctor, and that horrifying stance has led many of these “perfect patients” to complications and terrible outcomes. Worst of all, this blind obedience has enabled our broken healthcare system to thrive.

While many have barely survived and many have died, they never rocked the boat or lost faith in the time-honored tenet of 'doctor knows best.'

'An Educated Guess'

As a doctor myself, I want you to hear this loud and clear: No doctor knows best. We may have the education, experience, and expertise — some of us have published papers and given speeches, and have impressive-looking awards and plaques on our walls — but we can never truly know more than you do about what is going on inside YOUR body. Our advice and recommendations are no more than an educated guess that may or may not apply to your situation. Unless you take an active role in your own care, you will always be at the mercy of our educated assumptions.

Dont Let Your Doctor Kill You Book Embed

My goal is to help you never be a perfect patient again. This is your life. You must put yourself first and stop worrying about what the doctor thinks. … The empowered patient is still the same you. It’s you owning your life. This way you can easily and fearlessly choose to walk away rather than submit to medical care that doesn’t make sense to you. When you allow your decisions to come from fear, you put your life in danger. When you are intimidated by doctors, you set yourself up for bad medical care.


Stoking Fear

Our broken health care system has conditioned us to live in constant fear of a deadly disease going undiagnosed. We are conditioned to believe we must listen to the alarmist bullying of doctors who don’t know us or anything specific about our lives. I want to help protect you from becoming a statistic, yet another victim. The tools and information, now yours, that I have gathered over decades of medical practice will enable you to consistently and courageously make choices that are right for you. After all, it’s your life.

No doctor, system, or company owns your life. Doctors, no matter how well-intentioned, can only make recommendations, and the only way to accept those recommendations is if they come from kindness, empathy, and caring—not from arrogance, intimidation, and bullying. It’s your body and your life, but the medical establishment doesn’t care about you as an individual.

All About the Bottom Line

Sadly, to the present system you are simply a moneymaking opportunity, one source of income adding up to the billions of dollars that go to hospitals, big pharmaceuticals, insurance, and medical equipment companies, and — though, as an M.D. I hate to admit this — to some greedy and uncaring doctors. To maintain the hugely profitable industry that health care has become in our country, you, the patient, your family and friends — in fact, our entire society — must exist in a perpetual state of terror and dependency in the search for something wrong. Constantly terrified of missing a cancer, a heart problem, diabetes, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, or parasitic infestation, we miss living our lives. In our panic to avoid dying, we become moneymakers for the ruthless special interest corporations.

In short, you are the fulcrum of a system you have been led to believe you have no control over. Paradoxically, you are simultaneous the most important and the most irrelevant member of this system. The system that revolves AROUND you is not ABOUT you.

You Deserve Better

On the other hand, to health care professionals who are appalled and deeply saddened by the current situation, you, the patient, are our only reason to be. Not only are you, as a living, breathing human being deserving of compassionate care, you are the only hope to save this deeply flawed healthcare system. Change is a joint responsibility that begins, not just with doctors, medical institutions, or government policy — it begins with you. You must become brave enough to demand that health care become a customer service industry with you as the jewel in the crown. There’s no room for the 'perfect patient' anymore.


Emily Gurnon
Emily Gurnon is the former Senior Content Editor covering health and caregiving for Next Avenue. Her stories include a series of articles on guardianship abuse that was funded by the Journalists in Aging Fellows Program. She previously spent 20 years as an award-winning newspaper reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area and St. Paul. Reach her through her website. Read More
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