Doctor-Patient Relationships Turn Sour

Tara Parker-Pope recently had an article on how fewer and fewer patients trust their doctors.

About one in four patients feel that their physicians sometimes expose them to unnecessary risk, according to data from a Johns Hopkins study published this year in the journal Medicine. And two recent studies show that whether patients trust a doctor strongly influences whether they take their medication.

The distrust and animosity between doctors and patients has shown up in a variety of places. In bookstores, there is now a genre of “what your doctor won’t tell you” books promising previously withheld information on everything from weight loss to heart disease.

What are the reasons for this new distrust? Several factors appear to be involved:

(1) Patients often don’t understand what is going on with their health care because doctors and nurses are too rushed to explain things to them. Dr. Sandeep Jauhar, cardiologist and author of Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation, is quoted in the article with a story of a patient who was transferred from one hospital to another with no explanation for why. He blamed a “broken system” for such failures to communicate.

(2) There has been greater coverage in the news of medical error, the power of the drug industry and the flaws in health care administration.

(3) The Internet makes information much more available, so patients can be informed skeptics. Drug companies also market directly to patients, so they come into the doctor’s office with their own desires and opinions on what medications they should take. The upside to this is that patients have the information to challenge a doctor’s errors. The downside is that many end up taking a drug commercial, for instance, at face value and will not listen to a doctor’s reservations about the efficacy of a drug.

Again, from the article:

“Doctors used to be the only source for information on medical problems and what to do, but now our knowledge is demystified,” said Dr. Robert Lamberts, an internal medicine physician and medical blogger in Augusta, Ga. “When patients come in with preconceived ideas about what we should do, they do get perturbed at us for not listening. I do my best to explain why I do what I do, but some people are not satisfied until we do what they want.”

The whole article is worth reading. In addition, the article’s page also has an embedded video clip of interviews with people discussing their attitudes to their doctors.

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