Doctors are supposed to know the most intimate details about their patients — whether they're sexually active, whether they've used drugs, whether they've been indulging in a bit too much cake. But patients very rarely know much, if anything, about their doctors.
Leana Wen, an emergency physician, thinks that needs to change. She launched Who's My Doctor, a voluntary campaign that lets doctors disclose and patients search all sorts of details: Does a doctor specialize in LGBT care? What does this doctor think about reproductive rights? What are a doctor's beliefs on end-of-life care? Is the doctor getting some money on the side from a pharmaceutical company?
The idea, Wen explained in a recent TED MED talk, is to build trust between both the patient and the doctor — and hopefully lead to better medical outcomes as a result. "That openness, that trust, is only going to be more important as we move from the infectious to the behavioral model of disease," Wen said. "Bacteria may not care so much about trust and intimacy, but for people to tackle the hard lifestyle choices, to address issues like smoking cessation, blood pressure management and diabetes control, well, that requires us to establish trust."
But other medical professionals didn't appreciate the idea. "They told me that I'm a traitor to my own profession, that I should be fired, have my medical license taken away, that I should go back to my own country," Wen explained. "My email got hacked. In a discussion forum for other doctors, someone took credit for 'Twitter-bombing' my account. Now, I didn't know if this was a good or bad thing, but then came the response: 'Too bad it wasn't a real bomb.'"
At this point, Wen said she was ready to quit. But she was inspired by the feedback from patients, who praised the service. One patient remarked, "If doctors are doing something they're that ashamed of, they shouldn't be doing it." Another said, "Elected officials have to disclose campaign contributions. Lawyers have to disclose conflicts of interests. Why shouldn't doctors?"
Wen acknowledges the process of being totally transparent is difficult — even scary — for doctors, but she concluded it's worth it. "Being totally transparent is scary," she said. "You feel naked, exposed and vulnerable, but that vulnerability, that humility, it can be an extraordinary benefit to the practice of medicine. When doctors are willing to step off our pedestals, take off our white coats, and show our patients who we are and what medicine is all about, that's when we begin to overcome the sickness of fear."