Suddenly patients are ahead of their doctors!

October 14, 2013

Those whDoctors 341o have coped quite well with multiple sclerosis (MS) for years and even decades swear by the lifestyle improvements including low saturated fat ultra healthy diets with vitamin D3 supplements. Yet, many go to their doctors and ask if diet changes are needed and they are told by their doctors that diet makes no difference. How can this be especially when there are now hundreds of scientific studies supporting the view that diets and lifestyles matter in the treatment of MS?

Can it really be that doctors know little about nutrition and are behind the times when it comes to research? Interestingly, this is just what studies show. Studies for decades have encouraged USA medical schools, for example, to ensure that physicians receive at least a mere 25 hours of nutrition related training in medical school. Yet few medical schools in the USA provide even this small amount of training. This is what caused one doctor to whisper to another, “I know we’re supposed to know about nutrition and diet, but none of us really does.” (For an excellent article with this quote and on the deficiencies of physician nutrition related training, see Teaching Doctors About Nutrition and Diet.)

The lack of medical school training is, however, only one part of the problem. Other issues involve the many year lag between the discovery of improved practices by researchers and adoption of these practices by physicians. Next, there are practical problems involved with physicians, however well-intentioned and informed, and helping those with MS improve their lifestyles can be difficult.

While we wait for physicians to catch up with more current research on MS and lifestyle and nutrition, it helps to know how long the lag time is between the discovery of new medical knowledge and the use of this knowledge by physicians. One report entitled Translating scientific discoveries into public health action: how can schools of public health move us forward?, reports that it takes 17 years for new discoveries to become part of physician practices. Alas, for people with MS, 17 years is a long time to wait for a physician or neurologist to catch up. When research is showing that we can improve our health by improving our lifestyles and diets, we want to know now. We don’t want to feel sick and miserable for 17 years unnecessarily. It is no wonder so many are frustrated with our neurologists and other doctors. It is no wonder too that researchers, frustrated by the slow rate of adoption of improved practices by physicians, have started looking for ways to speed things along.

The article just referenced shows researchers report that just relying on publishing articles in journals and mass mailing will not spur physicians into action. Instead, these researchers found that training sessions and building the use of current research into physician practices are needed.

Other researchers have found a host of barriers blocking physician adoption of improved methods. In Why Don’t Physicians Follow Clinical Practice Guidelines? A Framework for Improvement, researchers suggest that physicians may not follow improved practices after they are aware of them because they lack the competence required to implement new practices (this is probably very true when it comes to nutrition because so few physicians have received adequate nutrition related training), because of a shortage of time, because of a shortage of needed educational materials for patients, and because of concerns that patients will not comply with the improved method, etc.

All in all, it looks like we need to continue to help each other until our Johnny-Come-Lately physicians catch up. That’s the beauty of this web site and the many similar sites that are springing up around the world. They are helping people with MS to help each other. We can learn to use science ourselves.
Rebecca Hoover

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