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Patient choice: trust the doctor?

I’ve invited my Revolution colleagues to form a “blog fodder chain” – when we see something interesting on the Internet, or have a difficult question, we forward it to one another as a kind of challenge to write about it in our blogs.

I have to say, though – they keep sending me the hard stuff. Examples of physicians gone bad, morally questionable healthcare practices, and hot topics full of mine fields. I keep hoping for the “which puppy do you think is cutest?” question. But no such luck for Dr. Val…

Our Chief Privacy Officer challenged me again with some powerful food for thought. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that some physicians withhold information (about treatment options) from patients if the physician objects to the options on moral or religious grounds.  Med bloggers Kevin MD and Medpundit also have recent posts about this article.

Well, of course this inspires initial indignation. Aren’t physicians supposed to offer all the options, with factual explanations of their pro’s and con’s, and then let the patient decide what they’d like to do?

Well, yes, they are. But the funny thing is that time after time when I’ve tried to do that for patients, they’ve expressed annoyance at me. They say, “you tell me what I should do, you’re the doctor!” And so after hearing this over and over again, I ended up truncating my explanation of options to the most “reasonable” ones and then allowing the patient to ask for more if they’re interested. Am I allowing my personal values to determine the hierarchy of options I present? Yes, probably so.

I’ve noticed that attention spans, even when it comes to important medical decisions, appear to be fairly short. Eyes glaze over when we try to explain all the subtleties of the options, and in the end (if the patient likes you and trusts you as a human being) he or she just wants to know what you’d choose if you were in his/her shoes – and why.

Am I being paternalistic? I hope not. I want patients to choose what’s best for them, but strangely enough their choice is often to let me decide. The power that patients impart to us is an honor and a privilege – and the reason why doctors are held to a higher moral standard than many other professionals. They are right to hold us to that standard. We must not squander their trust.

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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2 Responses to “Patient choice: trust the doctor?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Tell me, Dr. Val: which puppy is the cutest?

  2. ValJonesMD says:

    Oh, thank you for asking me a FUN easy question! At long last!!! I vote for Molly:

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