INTERVIEW WITH DOUGLAS WALLED, MD
As a radiologist, you maintain a broad understanding of treatment strategies and technology across all subspecialties of medicine. How does this inform your view of medicine today?
Practicing radiology – at the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing – is like being an oracle.
Physicians across all of medicine send their patients to you because they need answers. “What is wrong with my patient?” they are asking. The patient often comes with a small amount of information like “abdominal pain” or “fever,” and the rest is pretty much up to you. So, you fire invisible beams of light through them, wave your ultrasonic wand over them, or subject them to mind-bogglingly complex shifting magnetic fields. Then, you gather information from these ritual acts and – in what literally might as well be a magical process – reconstruct the patient’s entire anatomy and internal functions without ever disturbing their physical bodies. You then give your ‘prediction’, which is sometimes famously vague, and the referring doctor will compile your data with the data from other medical magicians and specialists, ultimately figuring out a diagnosis and the best course of treatment moving forward.
It is a spectacular gift to interface with droves of smart and devoted referring health care providers and leverage the most cutting edge medical technology on a daily basis, with the intent to cure the wounded, make well the ill, and empower the infirm.
Have you ever been a patient, and if so, what did it teach you?
I died once, when I was 21.
The accident, the Life Flight, being resuscitated in a trauma bay, the ICU, and a LONG road to recovery ran the gamut of the patient experience. It all started the summer before I started medical school, too. In a way, I am thankful for these experiences because of the way they evolved my perspective. Not just perspective on my own life, but also perspective on the lives of others. Life is an extremely fragile thing, and being a patient can be a truly terrifying experience. Being armed with these experiences changed my entire approach to patient care and taught me to be a better steward for those in need.
“It is a spectacular gift to interface with droves of smart and devoted referring health care providers and leverage the most cutting edge medical technology on a daily basis, with the intent to cure the wounded, make well the ill, and empower the infirm.”
What are the most important factor in the doctor/patient relationship and why?
I would say trust, necessarily in both directions.
The patient must trust his/her doctor to be present and attentive, to be educated and experienced, to be up to date on the most recent standard of care in their field, and most importantly to know when they do not know something and need the help of another physician or a team for particularly complex or borderline cases.
The doctor must trust his/her patient to be honest about what they’re experiencing, to be attentive to direction and advice, to follow lifestyle changes and comply with medications or treatments, and most of all to take responsibility for their own health.
You describe yourself as an “enthusiastic science nerd” and you are a senior member and an “Impact Creator” of IEEE (the world’s largest STEM organization.) How does your passion for technology help you in your professional pursuits?
My penchant for the pursuit of complete technical understanding has propelled me forward in Radiology. I never accepted hand-waving answers about the way our machines work. It turns out you don’t really have to understand exactly how they work to correctly interpret the resulting medical images and be a good or even a great clinical Radiologist. BUT, I’ve found that when you do know exactly how they work, it can give you an advantage to understand what you are looking at, particularly in difficult or odd cases.
From a group perspective, having someone who understands how the machines work in your practice helps provide next level service to the hospital and referring medical community. Things are often not cut and dry in medicine and sometimes a referring physician might be looking for something that is not covered by a standard imaging protocol. In those cases, it’s great to have “that guy” in the practice – I often get phones calls from our technologists and can tweak or change imaging protocols on the fly (occasionally ‘inventing’ a totally new protocol) in order to fit the medical need.
Finally, my passion for science, physics, and engineering puts me in a unique position as an educator. Good physics education for Radiologists in training (“residents”) is hard to come by, and most often is taught by physicists. The problem with a physicist who might have a PhD but not an MD is they fall short in making critical connections to patient care and diagnosis of disease while teaching the underlying principles. The reverse, where MDs don’t usually know enough fundamental physics to teach it in the first place, is also problematic.
Being a science-y uber-nerd allows me to transcend this problem and provide fundamental physics education with an emphasis on translation into the context of clinical practice – empowering my students to have an edge while interpreting medical images and to potentially be “that guy” or “that gal” when they finish residency and go into practice. In fact, I have built a small business based on my teaching called Dokter Doug, which has enjoyed local success and is steadily growing over time. It is an honor to be a part of preparing the next generation of doctors to provide ever better care in the ever advancing and amazing world of modern medicine!
“Doctorpedia is out in the field, scouting for physicians that communicate clearly, and have a drive to help explain health care to patients. In producing this educational material they are leveraging hand-selected talent to deliver much needed explanation and reassurance to an unlimited audience via their easy to navigate web-based platform. Doctorpedia is the future of patient information.”
What is your favorite activity outside of work?
My favorite activity outside of work is playing with my kids. Watching a young mind develop is an astounding and fascinating experience. To be a part of that, well, there is probably no greater gift than that.
I also enjoy creative writing. Unfortunately I’m one of those people who has been working on “my novel” for about 20 years now and have little more than a bunch of notes and scattered rough scenes to show for it. So, I would certainly not call myself a writer but I fantasize about being one someday!
You recently joined the Doctorpedia team as a Founding Medical Partner. What about Doctorpedia resonates with your personal and professional mission?
Bringing honest and clear education to the people who need it most – the patients – is what resonates with me. I’ve mentioned elsewhere in the interview that medicine is complex, technical, and can be a terrifying experience for a patient who doesn’t quite know what’s going on and can’t seem to slow down any of their doctors for long enough to explain. I think this is the primary frustration for patients receiving modern medical care and I believe Doctorpedia is the answer.
Doctorpedia is out in the field, scouting for physicians that communicate clearly, and have a drive to help explain health care to patients. In producing this educational material they are leveraging hand-selected talent to deliver much needed explanation and reassurance to an unlimited audience via their easy to navigate web-based platform. Doctorpedia is the future of patient information.
What do you think about the health and wellness information and resources available online?
Health and wellness information and resources available online are currently very poor. They are disorganized, often piecemeal, and tend to be long, exclusively text-based entries that are polarized into one of two categories: “too vague and lacking real information to be useful” or “too much jargon and high level technical details to be understood.” Doctorpedia will break the mold on this and I can’t wait to see it!
Douglas Walled, MD
Dr. Doug is board certified by the American Board of Radiology in Diagnostic Radiology and sub-specializes in advanced cardiac imaging, oncologic PET-CT, and nuclear medicine procedures. He is the founder of Dokter Doug Productions, LLC – an online resource for radiology residents preparing for their board examination and a senior member and an ``Impact Creator`` of IEEE (the world's largest STEM organization.)