MONDAY, April 11 (HealthDay News) -- When faced with a choice of
treatments, primary care doctors often choose a different option
than they would recommend to their patients, a new study finds.
In fact, physicians who were surveyed in the research more often
chose a treatment in which they were more likely to have long-term
repercussions, such as paralysis, than to die.
But when it came to advising their patients, doctors were more
likely to urge the treatment with a greater chance of death vs. the
one with non-lethal adverse effects, say researchers publishing
their findings in the April 11 issue of the
Archives of Internal Medicine.
"It's a pretty clear message: There's a discrepancy between what doctors recommend to their patients and to themselves," said Dr. Timothy Quill, author of an accompanying editorial in the journal.
"We need to try to reconcile that and make sure decisions are guided by patient values. We need to know what patients' values are, particularly in value-laden decisions," added Quill, who is director of the Center for Ethics, Humanities and Palliative Care at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "Decisions need to be guided by patients' values, not doctors'."
The study's lead author agreed. "Doctors and patients both need
to just be aware that advice giving is not as neutral as they
think," said Dr. Peter A. Ubel, a physician and behavioral
scientist at Duke University in Durham, N.C. "This is not just
about experts handing down expertise. It fundamentally changes the
way people weigh risks and benefits. A better approach would be for
both of the groups, doctors and patients, to have a better
discussion of what matters to the patient."
In the study, Ubel and his colleagues presented one of two
different treatment-decision scenarios to primary care physicians
in the United States.
For the first scenario, 242 doctors were told that either they
or a patient had just been diagnosed with colon cancer and could
choose one of two surgeries. Both options had a cure rate of 80
percent, but one had a higher death rate and fewer side effects.
The other had a lower death rate but patients were more likely to
need a colostomy or to have chronic diarrhea, intermittent bowel
obstruction or wound infection.
When it came to their own bodies and lives, 37.8 percent of
physicians chose the option with higher mortality over fewer side
effects, but only 24.5 percent thought that patients should choose
The second scenario involved being infected with a fictitious
new strain of avian flu. The flu itself had a 10 percent death rate
and would send 30 percent of patients to the hospital for an
average of one week.
The one treatment would halve the rate of adverse events, but
would kill 1 percent of recipients and cause permanent paralysis in
Of the nearly 700 doctors completing this survey, 62.9 percent
decided that they personally would endure the flu rather than get
this treatment. For their patients, however, only about half (48.5
percent) recommended foregoing treatment in the event of
"People think that doctors should not be telling people what to do, but [just] laying out the risks and benefits," Ubel said. "There isn't a lot of research on what happens when people put on these different hats -- decision-maker vs. advice-giver. There's a concern that doctors will often give bad advice because they're biased by their own financial interests or specialty or style. A surgeon thinks you need surgery, radiation oncologists says radiation."
Ubel says that feelings tend to pull people in one direction and
thinking in the other. And doctors may put thinking first when it
comes to their patients.
There's a lot more decision-making in health than sometimes
thought, added Ubel. "Even taking a cholesterol pill can be a
judgment call. There are potential side effects," he said, and "the
benefits are tiny if you're at low risk for a heart attack."
There's more on the doctor-patient relationship at the
American Medical Association.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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