A “skeptic” is “a person who questions or doubts something (such as a claim or statement) or a person who often questions or doubts things.” Is being skeptical a negative character trait? Or is being a skeptic good and healthy for today’s podiatrist?
I am a skeptic. In other words, I tend to doubt and question most things related to my medical specialty of podiatry. As a podiatry student, I also was a skeptic. When my professors made claims that did not make sense during their lectures, I often asked for a better explanation. I simply wanted reasonable justification for their statements that conformed to my understanding of the basic laws of mechanics and the basic physiology of the human body.
Now, after 30 years of podiatric practice, I consider myself even more of a skeptic. Why? I simply do not believe that all the claims lecturers make at podiatric seminars or that all the claims in podiatric publications are always true and based only on unbiased fact.
One of the best reasons to be a skeptical podiatrist in this day and age is the marketing claims by the manufacturers of podiatric surgical instrumentation, surgical hardware and surgical and wound care products that currently sponsor our podiatric seminars and advertise in our podiatric publications. Should we believe every claim made by marketing representatives for a company that manufactures a new technology or product when they come to our office or when we visit the company’s booth at a seminar? Should we believe every statement a podiatrist makes in an article or in a lecture about a new product or technology? I do not. I am a skeptical podiatrist.
I want more substantial proof than fancy slogans, pretty pictures, 3D animated videos and other types of marketing fluff before I become interested in a new product or technology, and start changing the manner in which I have been successfully treating my patients for years. Being a skeptical podiatrist means that I want scientific studies from independent researchers — not company representatives — that clearly show the therapeutic advantages of using a new technology or new product on my patients. If that research is non-existent, then I want to hear a lecturer, who I know to be unbiased, intelligent and not financially obligated to any sponsoring company, give an honest and unbiased opinion as to the therapeutic efficacy and usefulness of a new technology or product for my patients.
Are you also a skeptical podiatrist? Do you honestly believe that when a company sponsors a podiatric seminar, it is spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to just support the podiatric profession? I do not. I am a skeptical podiatrist.
I believe these companies are hoping we become excited by the fancy photos, cool videos, shiny surgical metallic alloys, marketing claims and testimonials associated with their product or technology. They hope they can appeal to our eagerness to be the most “progressive, state-of-the art podiatrist” within our medical community. In other words, companies hope we are gullible podiatrists, not skeptical podiatrists.
Are these companies that sponsor our podiatric seminars doing anything different than other companies when they are trying to promote, market and sell their product or technologies? No, they are doing exactly what many companies need to do to stay in business. Our podiatric seminars actively encourage and welcome these companies to sponsor our educational events in order to keep the cost of attending our seminars at a minimum. It is a simple fact that companies promote new products and technologies at great cost to the companies in order to make a profit. It is also a fact that podiatric seminars depend on these companies to make their seminars successful.
With all that being said, should you also become a skeptical podiatrist? I believe so. Become a skeptical podiatrist so you can properly scrutinize the marketing claims for products and technologies that we encounter daily in our practice and at our seminars. Become a skeptical podiatrist so you base your treatment decisions solely on whether new technologies and products have the potential to improve the health of your patients. Most of all, become a skeptical podiatrist so you always provide your patients with the best treatment that is based on scientific evidence, and not on marketing and advertisements.
Dr. Kirby is an Adjunct Associate Professor within the Department of Applied Biomechanics at the California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, Calif. He is in private practice in Sacramento, Calif.