Bioethics Blogs

Doctor Knows Best?

Photo Credit: NIH

Here is a write-up of a talk I recently gave at the NIH. The topic is a good one, about doctors and decision making and all that crap. But the real importance of linking you to the story is to find out if you hate my sport coat as much as my wife does. It is the only one I own now, and I’ve had it for 25+ years. Time for a new one?

Does doctor always know best? Patients often ask their doctor: “What would you do in my situation?” But as the doctor explains the risks and benefits of treatment options and imparts advice, it’s important to remember there’s a human behind that medical chart, a patient with unique values, opinions and personal preferences.

A doctor’s recommendation often influences a patient’s treatment choice, so the clinician has a huge moral responsibility to recommend well, said Dr. Peter Ubel, a physician and behavioral scientist who teaches public policy and business at Duke University. He led an animated, thought-provoking discussion about shared decision-making among doctors and patients at a bioethics lecture Mar. 22 in Lipsett Amphitheater.

“People want to be heard and understood. That, to me, is what shared decision-making is; that’s what partnership is,” said Ubel, who helps prepare business students for jobs in health care. “What we need to do as clinicians is to get better at eliciting those patient preferences. [Clinicians should tell patients]:‘I’m the expert on medical facts, but you’re the expert on you.’”

Ubel used the example of a patient with low-grade prostate cancer who was trying to decide between surveillance or surgery and radiation.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.