by Harriet A. Hall, MD
January 1, 2013
Most of us would agree that doctors should not treat patients without their consent, except in special cases like emergency care for an unconscious patient. It’s not enough for doctors to ask “Is it OK with you if I do this?” They should get informed consent from patients who understand the facts, the odds of success, and the risk/benefit ratio of treatments. The ethical principle of autonomy requires that they accept or reject treatment based on a true understanding of their situation and on their personal philosophy. Numerous studies have suggested that patients are giving consent based on misconceptions. There is a failure of communication: doctors are not doing a good job of providing accurate information and/or patients are failing to process that information. I suspect it is a combination of both.
An article in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that while the great majority of patients with advanced lung cancer and colorectal cancer agree to chemotherapy, most of them have unreasonable expectations about its benefits. For some cancers, chemotherapy can be curative, but for metastatic lung or colorectal cancer it can’t. For these patients, chemotherapy is only used to prolong life by a modest amount or to provide palliation of symptoms. Patients were asked questions like “After talking with your doctors about chemotherapy, how likely did you think it was that chemotherapy would…help you live longer, cure your cancer, or help you with problems you were having because of your cancer?” A whopping 69% of lung cancer patients and 81% of colorectal cancer patients believed it was likely to cure their cancer, and most of these thought it was very likely. More
by Karen M. Wyatt, MD
December 6, 2012
“The old man and the young woman sat across from one another stiffly perched on plastic chairs, staring down at the floor — doctor and patient. The tension in the room, exaggerated by the silence between them, was almost unbearable. Then the patient, stroking a trembling, emaciated hand across a hairless scalp, spoke haltingly, “Doctor, promise me I’m not going to die.”
According to a recent post in the New York Times by columnist Jane Brody, this type of interaction with a terminally-ill patient creates occupational distress for many doctors who are not equipped emotionally to handle such a difficult situation. She states that doctors who are unable to cope with “their own feelings of frustration, failure and helplessness … may react with anger, abruptness and avoidance” toward their patients who are dying. When this occurs, doctors may recommend futile treatments to patients at the end of life because they cannot connect with those patients on a human, suffering level and have nothing else to offer them.
The article touts mindfulness meditation, a practice recommended by palliative care specialist Dr. Michael Kearney, as a solution for discontent and disconnected doctors. I wholeheartedly agree that mindfulness meditation can be a very helpful practice for calming anxiety and learning to be present. However, I believe that this problem — doctors who find themselves unable to cope with perceived failure when a patient is dying — requires a deeper and more fundamental solution: Doctors need a new understanding of death and, therefore, life. More
By Tara Parker-Pope
The New York Times
August 27, 2012
When it comes to medical care, many patients and doctors believe more is better.
But an epidemic of overtreatment — too many scans, too many blood tests, too many procedures — is costing the nation’s health care system at least $210 billion a year, according to the Institute of Medicine, and taking a human toll in pain, emotional suffering, severe complications and even death.
“What people are not realizing is that sometimes the test poses harm,” said Shannon Brownlee, acting director of the health policy program at the New America Foundation and the author of “Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer.”
“Sometimes the test leads you down a path, a therapeutic cascade, where you start to tumble downstream to more and more testing, and more and more invasive testing, and possibly even treatment for things that should be left well enough alone.” More