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Checkup: Docs Don't Take Their Own Advice

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Air date: May 1, 2011

Host: Jeremy Shere, PhD

Check Up Patient Care Research
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Peter Ubel is a medical doctor and a behavioral scientist. He combines his interests by studying how doctors think and behave. Recently, he conducted an interesting thought experiment. It involved doctors deciding between two possible treatments for a disease.

There was treatment #1:

"Which avoided all those icky and unpleasant side effects but at the cost of a higher mortality rate."

And treatment #2:

"A treatment that gave you a better chance of survival but with treatment side effects that are unpleasant."

When Ubel asked a group of doctors which treatment they would recommend to a patient, most said treatment 2 -- the one thatís more likely to actually work, but comes with side effects. But when Ubel asked another group of doctors to imagine that they were patients stricken with the disease, the outcome was different.

"We found that they tended to choose treatment one."

In other words, when the doctors thought of themselves as patients, they choose the treatment option without side effects even though it was less effective.

So what does this all mean? For one thing Dr. Ubel says, it reminds us that doctorís advice isnít completely neutral. Doctors are human, after all, and not immune from being influenced by emotions and personal feelings. So the next time you seek advice from a doctor ...

"Ask the doctor why she recommends that particular alternative. By understanding what her reasons are for recommending it, you might even realize, thatís not the choice for me. Or you might get even more confident that the doctorís doing the right thing."

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Iím Jeremy Shere.