Let’s Talk: Migraine and Physician Mistakes

Have you ever been under the care of a physician and had a misdiagnosis? A wrongly prescribed medication? A medical mistake?

Maybe someone thought you were a drug seeker or addict and refused to treat you?

I have had these things and more happen. Multiple times. I once nearly died from a medical mistake and have permanent damage from others. (I’m a hard learner)

I have also stopped mistakes from happening to myself and my family.

I tell you this because I want you to understand my perspective…

Many patients have been at the wrong end of the odds and don’t know it because it was hidden from them. The odds are you are probably one of them.

Medical mistakes are a fact of life that nobody wants to talk about. As Migraineurs, we undergo a lot of different treatments over the course of our lives, so there is increased potential that something could go wrong. That begs the question — “so, what are we going to do about them?”

This subject needs to be discussed, and I want the Migraine community to feel free to be as respectfully open as possible in discussing the subject, so let’s attack it here…

In a brilliant video I’m going to post at the end of this article, Dr. Brian Goldman uses baseball — a game of skill – as an illustration about how we look at the rest of the world, and then look at our doctors…

In baseball, a 300 batting average is considered quite good. This means the batter was successful in 3 of every 10 tries. There are only a few batters who ever reach a 400 batting average. These are exciting figures for baseball fanatics! In baseball, a batter who is successful 4 out of every 10 times is considered extraordinarily talented indeed.

What would you think if someone told you that your doctor’s batting average was 400?

We expect our physician to bat 1000… perfection. No mistakes. Ever. Right?

But, should we?

What would you feel if your doctor came to you, admitted a mistake for which he/she was profoundly sorry? What would you want to say to that person?

Would your reply to them change if you knew they wanted to take that mistake to other doctors to talk to them about it so that it wouldn’t happen again to someone else?

Acknowledging the fact of medical mistakes is PARAMOUNT. Not only for us as patients, but for our doctors as well.


Because only in acknowledging mistakes, can we change them. Maybe even prevent them. The same is true for both physicians and their patients.

When our doctors acknowledge mistakes, they acknowledge their humanity. This is important for doctors if they are to preserve their unbiased objectivity, compassion for the patients they treat, and I suspect, their own sanity.

Doctors need to be able to talk about it when things go wrong. They need to know they are not alone, just as Migraineurs need to know that we aren’t alone in our own personal struggles. We all want to be heard, and understood.

We are a lot alike — Migraineurs and physicians. Let’s talk about why…

Can you as a patient imagine making a horrible mistake that terribly hurt or even killed someone, then be unable to talk about it to anyone or even say “I’m so very, very sorry”? Can you imagine your every action being potentially under the threat of lawsuit and losing everything you hold dear including your livelihood? What do you think that would do to you? I know I am very far from perfect, and it would devastate me.

Mistakes are the playing field that levels all of them as doctors, and us as patients too. The fear of making a mistake, or being the person the mistake is made on, is something that isn’t discussed much. It’s too volatile a subject.

I think we’re missing out on something important…

Without acknowledging mistakes, doctors lose the opportunity to BE human. They are profoundly affected by the mistakes they make, yet are forced by a society and a profession that expects nothing less than perfection from them. They can’t really talk about them to other doctors, so I think they become hardened — out of necessity and as a protective mechanism.

Perhaps some physicians act godlike to patients because they refuse to acknowledge mistakes, or simply don’t know how to acknowledge them constructively?

Perhaps patients expecting physicians to be perfect perpetuate this godlike façade we actually hate so much?

What about legally? Do you think patients who sue their doctors perpetuate the situation? If so, what can we do to fix it — for the betterment of medicine, the physicians who practice it AND their patients?

Because I experienced first-hand the medical mistakes that changed my life and the lives of family members, I tend to be a bit preachy in my encouragement of patients to be proactive in their care. It doesn’t happen that way on purpose, but simply reflects my passion for getting it *right*.

It’s not that I want patients to disrespect their physicians. The opposite is actually true. I want patients to quit expecting our doctors to be all-powerful, all-knowing gods then get angry when they act that way. I want patients instead to take our lives back and be responsible for ourselves. Respect our doctors as the human beings they are — feelings and faults included. After all, isn’t that what we want from them? I want patients to keep our own records, become educated about Migraine and the treatment options our doctors offer us. Check, double check, triple check to be sure the details are correct, and work as a team with our doctors for optimal health.

I encourage everyone to view the video below all the way through to the end. Dr. Goldman goes where precious few doctors I know have ever gone, especially in public. His speech is incredibly moving, thought provoking and important for every patient to consider…

TED Talks- Brian Goldman: Doctors make mistakes. Can we talk about that?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


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