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For Gods Sake Just Answer the Friggin’ Question!: Part 1

August 11th, 2011 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Of that infinite list of things that drive me nuts, many fall under the heading of “please, please, I beg you — just answer this simple question!!”

While I understand that everyone’s brains are wired differently, why is it so hard for many (most?) people experienced with an issue to give even the most basic of predictions? I see this with doctors, lawyers, accountants, restaurants hostesses, etc. etc. Here is the typical scenario:

Doctor: You have a common virus, I’ve seen a lot of people with this. It should clear up on it’s own.

Me: I was planning to visit an elderly relative next tuesday, given your experience what do you think the odds are that I will be symptom free?

Doctor: I have no idea, everyone is different.

Me: Yes, I understand that but given what you’ve seen from others, what is the average time you’ve seen for them to feel pretty much back to normal?

Doctor: There is no average, everyone is different.

Me: I understand there is variance, that would have been my next question — what is the standard deviation? Average and standard deviation pretty much cover any universe we can come up with.

Doctor: There is no average, everyone is different.

Me: There always is an average!!

Doctor: This is really as much an art as it is a science, so I can’t make predictions.

Me: Would you be surprised if I was over this tomorrow?

Doctor: yes.

Me: Aha! Would you be surprised if I was not over this in two weeks?

Doctor: yes.

Then I proceed with the questioning and narrow the ranges until I get something akin to what I was after all along.

Seriously — is it that hard to say average is one week with a standard deviation of 3 days? Really? If you’re that uncertain say a deviation of 6 days!

Those of you who watch The Mclaughlin Group will know what I mean. John M. usually asks every week for the panel members to make a prediction on a scale from one to ten the probability of something happening, and they often refuse to do it. They can say they are “very sure” that something will happen, but they refuse to say “seven”. WTF?

What spurred my rant? The following passage from Aaron Haspel (@ahaspel) at Classic.

If you want to know when you can expect to be released, consult the Wiki, not your doctor. The average stay for acute appendicitis is about a week. Your doctor will never tell you this, lest he sound too much like an algorithm in an expert system, which can probably outdiagnose him anyway. Best to keep your mouth shut, particularly if you are inclined to ask questions like, “Can you give me a range of dates within which you expect, with 0.9 probability, to release me?” Complaining to my doctor about her vagueness provoked a stern and rather terrifying lecture about how medicine is both an art and a science and each individual case is different. As it turned out, because of her art and my individuality, I spent thirteen more hours in the hospital than the average.


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