Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments (2)

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

You may also like these posts

    None Found

Read comments »

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:

Return to article »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

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…

Read more »

See all book reviews »