Hillary’s Health and the ‘Best’ Doctors

The following was written by Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which represents more than 2,400 tech companies and owns and produces CES. This first appeared in LinkedIn. Click here.

I wanted to share this with you because it could be a matter of life and death 

Gary with his wife, Dr. Susan Malinowski, and sons.

I married into a family of doctors, including my wife, a retina surgeon. For that reason, I smile every time I hear someone tell me their doctor is “the best.”

About half the time, they are wrong as, statistically, half of all doctors are below the median. Another smile comes from the old joke, “What do you call the person who graduated at the bottom of their medical school class?” The punch line: “Doctor.”
What does it mean to be the “best” doctor? Is it bedside manner, being empathetic, calm and experienced? Is it knowledge or creativity or seeing patterns where others don’t? Is it the number of patients seen in a day, or the number of successful outcomes?

The fact is, doctors vary in competence. But we should all strive to find the best medical care for our individual needs. This summer, my wife was honored to be asked to draft questions for, and administer oral exams to, eager young doctors seeking to be board-certified in her specialty. The experience requires a deep understanding of what everyone in her specialty should know to practice.

All medical specialties now require doctors to be recertified every 10 years. The scary part, however, is that the older doctors sitting on the specialty boards making this decision are exempt.

Think about that: The only specialty doctors not required today to be retested are those who probably haven’t taken a medical-knowledge exam in 30 years — and things have changed substantially since 1986 in every field of medicine. I’ve witnessed this rapid pace of change in my own work as head of the Consumer Technology Association. A decade ago, the iPhone didn’t exist. Today, roughly three-quarters of U.S. households own a smartphone.

That said, most older physicians do try to keep up with the tremendous volume of new knowledge. And they have the advantage of experience. Even if they committed an error in the past, they should learn from it.

Having confidence in one’s doctor is important, but I also know that there are great doctors, and there are hacks. More, the medical profession has a code of silence, where doctors don’t report the hacks, but instead clean up their mistakes. 

If you want to know who the best surgeon is, ask the operating-room nurses. They see different doctors and know the masters and the pretenders. Another trick is to ask doctors who they would recommend if their own mother or son were sick.

Identifying the best doctor also depends on whether your ailment is unusual. If you have a common malady, go to a doctor who deals with it regularly. If you have something serious and uncommon, go to a teaching hospital.

One thing you shouldn’t do is think a doctor is good simply because a politician uses him or her. Two examples:

After Hillary Clinton’s recent very public collapse, her campaign revealed she had pneumonia. Three days later, her presidential campaign released summary health information, including that she was taking the blood thinner Coumadin and the antibiotic Levaquin. Yet a simple Google search revealed that these two types of drugs in combination rank among the 10 most dangerous combinations and should not be prescribed together. 

The fact that Clinton’s doctors and TV talking-head medical experts missed this – my cardiologist father-in-law noted it immediately – tells you something about the uncertain correlation between fame and competence.

The second example involves former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who while running for president had back surgery. His campaign collapsed after a debate performance in which, drugged following the surgery, he said that if elected, he would immediately shutter three government agencies, but embarrassingly only could cite two examples.  

A few months later, a friend of ours told us he was flying to Texas to have surgery (from the same doctor), which would take several hours and lay him up for days. When my wife asked why he chose this doctor, our friend said, “The doctor’s the best. He’s the governor’s doctor.” 

But when my wife suggested there are newer, less-invasive surgical techniques for his condition and suggested a West Coast contact, he got a second opinion. 

That was fortunate for him, as the resulting surgery was minimally invasive and took little time. He arrived, had the surgery and walked out of the hospital fully fixed, and has been fine since.

A final example is less positive. My wife saw a patient and quickly diagnosed him as having a rare manifestation of cancer, a cancer in the eye that had already metastasized through his body.  

She urged him to have it treated at an East Coast university hospital that had likely seen and successfully treated several cases like his. Instead, the patient got a second opinion that referred him to the wrong type of cancer specialist, one who focused on extracting the eye rather than treating the entire cancer.

She asked the patient why he had not taken her initial suggestion. He said online reviews about the teaching hospital were not great, as patients had long waiting times. So the patient now has little hope of full recovery, because he chose the wrong doctor for the wrong reason.

The only thing worse than no knowledge is a little knowledge. Basing life-changing decisions on online reviews, and ignoring other facts, is a shortsighted and potentially dangerous approach.

Not all doctors are great. Which physicians politicians use and online reviews shouldn’t be anyone’s reference source for choosing a doctor.

Instead, ask other doctors or nurses, and consider how often the doctor you’re about to see treats cases like yours. Your health may depend on getting the best doctor for your condition.

Written by
Gary Shapiro

Gary Shapiro

President and CEO at Consumer Technology Association

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