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The double-edge sword of patient empowerment

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

This cartoon is obviously about liberal angst being so intense that it causes health problems — black humour — but there’s another good interpretation for my readers …

This cartoon could also easily be about the double-edged sword of patient empowerment. The doctor is simultaneously praising the patient for his self-awareness and initiative … but also blaming him, suggesting that his attention to his own medical problems is the problem, that he may be own worst enemy (the dangers of Dr. Google and nocebo, embracing bullshit, etc).

Many patients, especially chronic pain patients and people with “medically unexplained symptoms,” have no choice but to impale themselves on both horns of that dilemma: no matter what they do, they risk misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and being condescended to.

If you look at the comments on the New Yorker’s post, you can see that this is exactly how a lot of people did interpret the cartoon.