Friday, November 18, 2011

Doctor A and B dilemma

So, I happen to have a theory. A theory that can be life changing. Okay, not life changing, but it can be helpful for day to day applications. No, not every day applications, but it wouldn’t hurt you to use it once in a while. It will make you think, wonder and write me a thank you note.

You need a doctor.
You need to decide on only one doctor.
All concerned doctors are more or less equally skilled.
You are not grossed by oxymorons.

Suppose you go to a doctor’s clinic for the first time. You are out waiting, you see a guy (or a girl/lady/chick, whatever suits you) and  you get in the following question & answer session with him/her.  

Q: “Is this doctor any good?”
A: “Oh yes, absolutely, he is the best.”
Q: “Medicines work? Side effects?”
A: ” No, no side effects. He gives the best medicines”
Q: “Really?”
A:  ”Yes, I am telling you, he is the best in town.”

You can do this yourself. Pick a random doctor, practicing in a random town. Now, go to his clinic, pick a random custome..sorry patient, and ask him/her these questions. And the answer, oh yes, you guessed it right that I guessed it right,—is similar to what I predicted.  Repeat the experiment. Hell yeah, I’m right again.
Now, read the title again, Doctor A and B. I have chosen it that way so that I’ll be able to put forward and explain my theory to you.
Let us say you go to a Doctor, Doctor A. You indulge in aforementioned Q&A. Assuming I’m right about the Q&A, which I totally am, there is actually only a little help you can get from that person.

Because you are asking to the wrong guy. At the wrong place.

He might not, not by his own fault, be telling you the truth. Consider this, why would a patient return to a doctor. Because either a. he is showing signs of progress or b. he is not showing progress but still has faith on the doctor. So, almost all the patients you meet in a clinic should have a positive view for the doctor.
This  includes all the people who visit that doctor, whether or not  they are present there.
That is the reason why family doctors are always good and why certain band that your friend follows is, according to that friend, awesome. This would imply not only for doctors and bands, but also for musicians, hairdressers, astrologers*, clothing brands and all the dumbass sitcoms that your room mates are crazy about.
Or in one word,


Yes, BIAS. The key to universe, the truth behind everything. You cannot expect an impartial judgment from a biased person. (Duh..?)
Yet, we all fall for it.

Now let’s take the case of Doctor B. You are at Doctor A’s, and the fellow patient you were chatting with is still there. Ask him about Doctor B.

Q: “I heard about Doctor B. Have you ever been to him?”
A: “He is an A-hole, a douche bag”
Q: “But his medicines work, don’t they?”
A: ”No, he is a fraud, a douche bag”
Q: “Really?”
A:  ”Yea, he’s a Douche bag.”

Assuming that guy ever did go to Doctor B, that’s the kind of feedback you are going to get (plus/minus profanity). He switched to Doctor A, only because he, to say the least, was unsatisfied with Doctor B.  Now replace A and B in this article, you’ll still get the same result.

So which doctor to chose:
I don’t know, flip a coin?
(Now some of the following wisdom is derived from the book Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell ) Well, you can decide by the way doctors treat their patients, I mean whether they are friendly or rough or cruel or sadistic. Because these are something like relatively absolute qualities. It was observed that doctors who behaved nice, were less likely to get sued compared to those who behaved otherwise. So if you want to be satisfied and feel good from your doctor’s service, no matter how much he robs you, go with the friendlier one.

The Bottom line:
Long post, huh? To end, let me tell you the inspiration behind this article. I heard someone in my family say “Jisse bhi pucho, yahi kehta hai, yeh Doctor bahut acche hain ”, and that statement triggered..whatever, was needed to write this post. I’m sure you too must have heard some version of this tale sometime. Actually, the objective behind this post was to highlight a common logical fallacy, that generally goes unnoticed. So, the gist:

Don’t judge a Doctor by his patients review, or a musician by his fans review, or a college by its student’s rev…… ok, never mind the last one.


  1. Denrell, J. and G. Le Mens (2007). “Interdependent Sampling and Social Influence.” Psychological Review, 114 (2): 398-422.

  2. @glendornach Could you summarize the paper and it's relation with this post? I read the abstract, seems like they might as well be talking about a similar observation.

  3. very true ! very true! good observation. I liked this one.