Although most doctors say they believe in the immediate free flow of information from physician to patient, the reality is that many hospitalized patients don’t receive a full explanation of their condition(s) in a timely manner. I’ve seen patients go for days (and sometimes weeks) without knowing, for example, that their biopsy was positive for cancer when the entire medical staff was clear on the diagnosis and prognosis. So why are patients being kept in the dark about their medical conditions? I think there are several contributing factors:
1. Too many cooks in the kitchen. During the course of a hospital stay, patients are often cared for by multiple physicians. Sometimes it’s unclear who should be the first to give a patient bad news. Should the news come from their primary care physician (who presumably has a long standing, trusting relationship with the patient) or the surgeon who removed the mass but doesn’t know the patient well? In many cases each assumes/hopes the other will give the patient the unpleasant news, and so the patient remains in the dark.
2. Family blockades. It often happens that a patient’s spouse or family member will request that news of an unpleasant diagnosis be delayed. They argue that it would be best for the patient to feel better/get stronger before being emotionally devastated by a test result. In some cases the family may be right – grief and shock could impair their participation in recovery efforts, resulting in worse outcomes. Cultural differences remain regarding how patients like to receive information and how families expect to be involved in care. American-style, full, immediate disclosure directly to the patient may be considered rude and inappropriate.
3. Uncertainty of diagnosis. Sometimes a clear diagnosis only develops with time. Biopsy results can be equivocal, the exact type of tumor may be unclear, and radiology reports may be suggestive but not diagnostic. Some physicians decide not to say anything until all the results are in. They cringe at the prospect of explaining uncertainty to patients, and without all the answers they’d rather avoid the questions. What if it looks as if a patient has a certain disease but further inquiry proves that she has something else entirely? Is it right to frighten the patient with possibilities before probabilities have been established?
Although sensitivity must be applied to the nuances of individual care scenarios, my opinion is that patients should be immediately informed of their test results and their physician’s thought processes at every step along the diagnostic pathway. Family member preferences, however well-meaning they are, cannot trump the individual’s right to information about their health. If physicians are unclear regarding which of them should break the news to a patient then they should confer with one another and come up with a plan ASAP.
The right time to tell the patient the truth is: now. To my colleagues who avoid giving patients information because it is personally uncomfortable (often leaving me or other third party to be the messenger), I have two words: “man up.”
There are at least two conversations going on in the health care marketplace today, each focused on one of two key questions. One is: How can we achieve the Triple Aim? The other is: Why do they get to do that? (It’s not fair! I want more!)
Until we stop asking the second question, we can’t answer the first question. Why? Because all too often the answer to the second question is the equivalent of: It’s OK, Timmy, I’ll buy you TWO lollipops; pick whichever ones you want.
It’s the tragedy of the commons, transposed to the health care marketplace.
Recent cases in point:
- Tufts Medical Center – Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts grudge match
- Mammography and PSA guidelines
1. Avastin. Late last year, Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at HealthBlawg :: David Harlow's Health Care Law Blog*
Health Costs: In an unusual stance, a leading doctor’s group has issued ethical guidelines that include taking cost into account when recommending medical treatments for patients, Rob Stein reports for NPR’s Shots blog.
BioMed Jobs: A Texas biomedical research center that was supposed to create 5,000 jobs with a $50 million state grant has fallen far short of those goals, and the private company that received 70 percent of the money has pulled out of the project, Matthew Watkins reports for The Eagle.
Health Reform: What’s happening in health reform this year? Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post lays out some key dates for 2012.
Medicare: Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Reporting on Health - The Reporting on Health Daily Briefing*
In November, the journal Pediatrics published an entire supplement devoted to Pediatric Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal, Ethical and Clinical Issues in Decision-Making. The authors purport to have “examined current legal, ethical, and clinical issues that arise when considering CAM use for children and identified where gaps remain in law and policy.” (S150) Their aim is to “illustrate the relevance and impact of identified [ethical, legal and clinical] guidelines and principles,” to recommend responses, identify issues needing further consideration, and thus “assist decision makers and act as a catalyst for policy development.” (S153)
Unfortunately, as we saw in Pediatrics & “CAM” I: the wrong solution, the authors’ solution for the “issues that arise when considering CAM use for children” consist, in the main, of placing a huge burden on the practicing physician to be knowledgeable about CAM, keep up with CAM research, educate patients about CAM, warn patients about CAM dangers, refer to CAM practitioners, ensure that CAM practitioners are properly educated, trained and credentialed, and so on.
Limit CAM? Not happening
Curiously absent are recommendations placing responsibility on those who profit from the sale of CAM products Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*
Reporter John Fauber has published the latest in his “Side Effects” watchdog series, headlined “Doctors didn’t disclose spine product cancer risk in journal: Spine-product paper omitted key data.” Excerpts:
“Doctors paid millions of dollars by Medtronic failed to identify a significant cancer risk with the company’s spine surgery product in a 2009 paper about results of a large clinical trial.
The surgeons left out important data and claimed there was no significant link between the product and cancer.
The company and doctors had become aware of information on Read more »
*This blog post was originally published at Gary Schwitzer's HealthNewsReview Blog*