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Healthcare And The Importance Of Hope

Hope is a tricky thing. On the one hand, false hope can lead patients to opt for painful, futile treatments at the end of life. On the other, unnecessarily bleak outlooks can lead to depression and inaction. When health is at stake, presenting information with the right amount of hope can guide patients away from both suffering needlessly and/or succumbing to treatable disease.

I was reading a sad story about a patient whose physician had made her feel hopeless. She was an elderly widow with some real, but not immediately life-threatening, medical conditions. His attitude led her to believe that she was sick and useless – with little to look forward to but ongoing testing, disease progression and eventual death. His professional opinion held special weight for her, coloring her entire outlook. It wasn’t until a friend reminded her of the doctor’s fallibility that she began to question her diagnoses, treatment options, and even prognosis.

When faced with concerning new medical diagnoses, even the most educated among us tend to imagine the worst case scenario. Knowing this, physicians should take care to offer reassurance and optimism whenever it is warranted. Hope provides the energy to course correct, to fight battles that can be won, and to hold on to trust in a brighter future. Why be stingy with it when it is so easily given?

As a rehab physician I have regularly encountered bias on the part of healthy people in regards to certain injuries. I hear them whisper, “I wouldn’t want to go on living if I couldn’t walk” or “That poor man’s life must be ruined.”  And yet, these feelings are not shared by those fighting the battles. In many cases, losing an ability focuses the mind on what’s important – and on all the things that can still be achieved and enjoyed. Life is a gift, and while we all still have breath – we can make meaningful contributions.

It breaks my heart to see patients lose hope, and it is sadder still when physicians facilitate the loss. What we say carries psychological weight, and we should recognize the duty we have to deliver information with kindness and respect – focusing on the possible, dispelling unreasonable fears, and emphasizing that inner peace is attainable no matter the circumstance.

In healthcare we ought to always have hope – not for perfect health, or longer life – but in our ability to overcome obstacles, to make good come from bad, and to have a positive impact on others. The choice to live our best life is ours to make, no matter the disease or condition. Never let a doctor steal your hope, but adopt the rehab mission: to add life to years.

Perhaps Breakthrough Is Too Strong A Word

Some months I can’t wait for my new issue of Prevention magazine to arrive, just so I can see how they’ve stretched the envelope this time.

How about this month’s cover, trumpeting a Cancer Vaccine Breakthrough in big yellow font at lower left of the cover?

So I started flipping through the Table of Contents for the big story.  Hmmm….nothing there.  Odd.

So I started flipping through the pages of tips for “jiggle-proof arms and abs” and such and….voila…on page 13 I found the big story under another “Cancer Breakthrough” heading.

In 16 words in that little box, I learned that a vaccine was Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Health News Review*

Hyperbole In Medical News May Give Patients False Hope

Right off the top, let me be clear that I am NOT minimizing the importance of this week’s news about an experimental treatment for leukemia – one that has drawn much news attention.

It is an important finding.

What I am commenting on herein is the news coverage.

The ABC television piece itself wasn’t bad, with good perspective from Dr. Len Lichtenfeld of the American Cancer Society. But the lead-in and the ending, both involving anchor Diane Sawyer, were hyperbolic. The following screenshot was part of Sawyer’s lead-in. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*

Breast Cancer Diagnosis And Treatment: Can Women Trust It?

The news wasn’t good this week for women concerned about breast cancer.

First came the story that some women were diagnosed with breast cancer, very early stage, had treatment –- including disfiguring surgery -– and then found out they never had cancer in the first place. The pathologist goofed, maybe even a second pathologist also misread the biopsies.

How does this happen? Not surprisingly it comes back to the clinical experience of the doctor. Properly diagnosing breast cancer, whether through radiology scans or pathology biopsies is not always easy. And in many communities the general radiologists and pathologists just don’t have enough specialized experience. This leads to mistakes, especially when the suggestions of possible cancer are subtle and minute. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Andrew's Blog*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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