Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe: The art of good medicine

Dr. Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe

Have you ever consulted a doctor for an opinion about your health but found yourself unsure whether to follow the advice given? Even as a physician, I've been in that position and it isn't at all comfortable.

In my case, I suddenly found myself with achy joints, not an uncommon situation for adults as they "get older." The problem is I'm not that old! I was soon diagnosed with a form of arthritis after consulting a rheumatologist at one of the top hospitals in Boston, which wasn't too surprising given my family history.

The medication regimen proved a bit intense, and my husband and I were not thrilled with the recommendation for the next step of treatment. We found this group very focused on treatment first, life impact second and decided to seek alternate opinions to see if there was a way to treat the joints while having some sort of quality of life considerations.

The next rheumatologist had a better handle on the life impact issues but had a different major flaw: He opted to ignore key diagnostic tests done with the first group and attempt to shake up the entire diagnosis without adding any insight into treatment.

So, we're pushing for another opinion. That's right, a third opinion.

It's important that I have a doctor that looks at me as a person, not a diagnosis. It's important that my doctor consider treatment options for me that take into account my life - as a mom, wife and physician - and not just focus on marching through a protocol. It's important that I find someone who listens and doesn't discount what my body is telling me even if it doesn't fit nicely into some diagnostic box. Human bodies don't tend to work that way. As I learned early in medical school, human bodies don't read medical books and why we have to practice the art of medicine with a solid clinical background.

The art of medicine is what I want my doctor to practice -- not some lab-focused, protocol-oriented medicine, which seems to be a bit more common these days. Whether for me, my husband or my children, this is the type of medicine I feel is a must to get the care needed for any problem, large or small.

Good care is still possible in a dysfunctional system, and don't let any health care provider tell you otherwise. You always have the power to change and should use that power to find the provider who meets your health and wellness needs, or those of a family member if you are acting as an advocate.

By the way, notice I never mentioned health insurance. The core of what we need from our health and wellness system isn't about health insurance reform, it's about health and medical reform and finding providers who still believe in the value of providing good care in a run-down system.

Gwenn Schurgin O'Keeffe, M.D., F.A.A.P., is a pediatrician and mother of two from Wayland, Mass. A graduate of Tufts University School of Medicine, Dr. O'Keeffe completed her residency training at New England Medical Center. Dr. O'Keeffe is founder and CEO of Pediatrics Now,, and can be reached at