Too much choice can be a nightmare for patients, according to a feature in the New York Times. “Many find the job of being a modern patient, with its slog through medical uncertainty, to be lonely, frightening and overwhelming,” reports Jan Hoffman. Although doctors are trained to respect patient autonomy and patients are often well informed after researching their ailments on the internet, their well-being can suffer nonetheless.
People want to feel a part of their health care,” says David Mechanic, a medical sociologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. But they don’t want to be abandoned to making decisions all on their own. When a doctor says, ‘Here are your options,’ without offering expert help and judgement, that is a form of abandonment.”
However, doctors who are hard pressed for time and worried about malpractice suits may find it hard to walk their patients through the decision-making process. Another problem is that more and more doctors are pursuing medical specialties rather than becoming old- fashioned family doctors. This can mean that there is no one to coordinate a patient’s care.
This is the blessing and the burden of being a modern patient,” observes Hoffman. “A generation ago, patients argued for more information, more choice and more say about treatment. To a great extent, that is exactly what they have received: a superabundance of information, often several treatment options and the right to choose among them.” But sometimes the range and complexity of the options can make them unhappier than ever. A patient’s lot might have been easier when he was told what to do.
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