Doctors’ Best Advice? ‘Do as We Say, Not as We’d Do For Ourselves’

Illustration of a cartoon cute character for use in presentations, etc.

Think about this:

You have just been diagnosed with a lethal disease. For fun, let’s call it stomach cancer. So you sit down for the miserable chat with your doctor and it turns out there are two different treatments. After hearing the details of both choices, you ask the physician the obvious question:

“What would you do, doctor? I mean, for yourself?”

Now he or she will answer whatever they will answer. Just don’t expect it to be the truth.

Say, what?

You see, the results of a survey reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine four years ago showed clearly exactly this: what doctors believe are the best treatments for themselves are frequently not what they would advise for their patients.

Doctor Peter Ubel at Duke University and his colleagues created a physician-opinion study. They surveyed 500 primary care MDs by dividing them in half. Each group was presented with one of two clinical treatment protocols. In the first example, the doctors were asked  what treatment they would choose if they personally got an abdominal cancer diagnosis. They were given two surgical choices, each offering an 80% success rate. But there was one little pickle to consider.

Surgical Option #1 had far fewer side effects, but a slightly higher chance of death. Surgery Option #2 had a lower chance of dying, but a fair chance that the patient would have side effects of wound infection, repeated diarrhea and possibly a colostomy bag.

More than 35% of the doctors said they personally would choose the option with the higher death possibility, but with fewer adverse effects afterwards.

But most of them would advise their patients to choose the surgery with the lower death rate but with serious side effects probable.

Ready for another fun scenario?

Doctor Peter Ubel’s people asked 1,600 doctors how they would protect themselves from the threat of a new, deadly strain of flu. 800 of the physicians were supposed to pretend that they themselves were already infected. The other  800 were to imagine that their patients were infected.

In this scenario there was one type of vaccine on earth for treatment. If those with the flu strain were not inoculated, they could expect a 30% chance of going to the hospital for a week, and 10% would die. The treatment would lower the possibility of side effects by 50%, but four patients out of 100 would become paralyzed.

What did this survey reveal? a jaw-dropping 63% of the doctors  answered that they personally would avoid the vaccine, because of the negative side effects.

What choice would they recommend for their patients? The vast majority wrote that they would recommend the vaccine.

Our thoughts? This doctor survey underscores the reason citizens need to think for themselves; pay attention to benefits as well as risks; and take charge of your own health decisions.

Your computer is a modern miracle. Use it wisely.

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