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Monday, 19 November, 2007

Brainsuckers: a doctor's worst nightmare

Here's a new piece of medical slang you may not have heard before: brainsuckers.

That's how Dr Scott Haig describes the frustrating "medical googler" patients he sees, in published November 8 that has stirred up some controversy among patient advocates, reports the

Mary Shomon, who blogs about thyroid diseases at, says Dr Haig's article demonstrates why it's important patients are . She also notes that such patients are also called "petit papier patients," because they often bring in papers for their doctors to interpret.

Here's how begins:

We had never met, but as we talked on the phone I knew she was Googling me. The way she drew out her conjunctions, just a little, that was the tip off — stalling for time as new pages loaded. It was barely audible, but the soft click-click of the keyboard in the background confirmed it. Oh, well, it's the information age. Normally, she'd have to go through my staff first, but I gave her an appointment.

Susan was well spoken and in good shape, an attractive woman in her mid-40s. She had brought her three-year-old to my office, but was ignoring the little monster as he ripped up magazines, threw fish crackers and Cheerios, and stomped them into my rug. I tried to ignore him too, which was hard as he dribbled chocolate milk from his sippy cup all over my upholstered chairs. Eventually his screeching made conversation impossible. [...]

Meanwhile, Mom launched into me with a barrage of excruciatingly well-informed questions. I soon felt like throwing Cheerios at her too.

Susan had chosen me because she had researched my education, read a paper I had written, determined my university affiliation and knew where I lived. It was a little too much — as if she knew how stinky and snorey I was last Sunday morning. Yes, she was simply researching important aspects of her own health care. Yes, who your surgeon is certainly affects what your surgeon does. But I was unnerved by how she brandished her information, too personal and just too rude on our first meeting.

Every doctor knows patients like this. They're called "brainsuckers." By the time they come in, they've visited many other docs already — somehow unable to stick with any of them. They have many complaints, which rarely translate to hard findings on any objective tests. They talk a lot. I often wonder, while waiting for them to pause, if there are patients like this in poor, war-torn countries where the need for doctors is more dire.

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  1. Maybe the reason why "brainsuckers" are such a problem to this typical North American doctor is because Canadian doctors in general are some of the most incompassionate, money-hungry, holier-than-thou "healthsuckers" on the planet, that honestly believe that their patients are a burden to their tee-time. I'm sorry I feel this way, but personally I've had too much disturbing experience with my own persistent and debilitating lower-back pain that now goes untreated (other than constant ibuprofen and robaxacet) because I'd rather be in constant physical pain than meet one more "soulsucker" who dehumanizes me as a "hypocondriac" with their eyes and offers me nothing other than a demented chuckle that says "Oh well, what can you do? Your problem is too complicated for me to take seriously".

    And I have heard too many negative stories from others who simply aren't getting serious attention paid to their often self-evident medical problems.

    When patients, who naturally want to get to the heart of their medical problems and pain, are being called "brainsuckers", it's a strong indication that doctors are being paid far too much for far too little.

    Thankfully some doctors "get it" and rather than fighting their ailing but inquisitive patients, they do an astonishing thing: They actually encourage scientific learning in their patients rather than hiding away in their unapproachable ivory towers in the sky.

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