A recent study seems to suggest that doctors may suggest treatments to patients that they would not use for themselves, more often than not. Apparently when several doctors were asked about treatment they had prescribed in the context of “if it were them,” they often chose a different route than what they had suggested to their patients. Most doctors said they would personally choose an option that may carry a higher risk of death, but also a better chance of survival with a better quality of life. For their patients, the doctors’ recommendations were more likely to place a higher importance on survival, regardless of the quality of life that may result.
One example is that when almost 300 doctors were asked about what they would choose for themselves as a treatment for colon cancer, the majority of them chose a surgery that had a higher death rate than other treatments, but a lower risk of adverse effects if successful. A much lower percentage said they would suggest this to patients. Another example had physicians imagining they had the bird flu. They were told that without treatment, they had a 10% death risk and a 30% risk of needed treatment at a hospital. With treatment, they would suffer some adverse side effects, but would be better faster. About two-thirds of the almost 700 doctors surveyed chose to forego treatment in order to avoid adverse side effects. Conversely, only half of the same doctors’ recommendations for patients would have been the same.
Experts say that doctors think differently when making decisions for themselves rather than for patients. It is simply not clear if putting yourself in the patient’s shoes is the best way to make a decision about treatment. Today, doctors are encouraged to present the evidence and information relevant to the case and let the patient decide for themselves, rather than give their personal opinion about treatment options. The study does not attempt to prove that doctors’ recommendations are always better decisions for themselves than they are for others.
That being said, a representative from The Patient’s Association noted that it was somewhat telling what the study revealed. She noted that any human being is going to weigh the information about different treatments more subjectively when it comes to making a decision for his or herself. The thing to remember is that doctors have medical evidence to back up their decisions, when many patients completely rely on doctors’ recommendations for their information. For patients to truly be able to make their own decisions with any degree of confidence, there needs to be better information easily accessible and in a format easy for them to understand made available to them.