How We Make Medical Decisions

The bewildering sensation of too much information, yet not enough knowledge to use it, is the reality for many people faced with a serious illness or condition.  How do you decide what to do?  Should you do exactly what the doctor says?  What about all that stuff on the Internet?  Are the books at the library or bookstore up to date with the information they offer?  How relevant is that clinical study you saw referenced in an article?  Is the advice from your cousin’s friend who had a related condition worth considering?

Making medical decisions is very difficult for most people, including those already in health care professions.  Sifting through the data, recommendations and opinions can be overwhelming.  That, coupled with the feeling that we don’t dare make the wrong decision, leaves most of us struggling and scared.

In Your Medical Mind, Dr. Groopman and Dr. Hartzband state that the answer to medical decision making does not lie in more information and more opinions, but in understanding the influences and biases hidden in the patient’s own mind.  Their position is that deciding on a course of treatment is infinitely more complex than a simple clinical or economic decision.

When struggling to make a decision to begin a new medication, to undergo surgery, to start a different type of therapy, the first source of information is the doctor that recommends it.  Armed with this data, most of us then turn to the Internet and search all the information that comes up when we type in the relevant words in a search engine.

Then our family, friends and neighbors chime in with anecdotes from their experiences.  All of this gets filtered though our own experiences and preferences.  No two people with make the same decision on medical treatment with the same degree of comfort.  As Dr. Groopman says, “the path to maintaining or regaining heath is not the same for everyone.”

Some people are minimalists, who prefer to keep all medical intervention to a minimum and work with their body’s natural immune and healing processes.  Others are maximalists, who want to jump in with everything that modern medicine has in its arsenal.

Some are believers, who approach their options convinced that the right solution for them is out there somewhere.  Others are doubters, who are skeptical of all treatment options.  Most people fall somewhere on the spectrum of these extremes.  Understanding where your mind-set is regarding medical treatment is useful in considering your options.

Individual preferences about risks and benefits, about quality of life during and after treatment matter tremendously.  The practice of medicine is, and always will be, an art, not an exact science.

Click here for a radio interview on this topic with Drs. Groopman and Hartzband.

For guidance in evaluating medical options, see Patient Navigator’s Roadmaps:

Evaluate Health Information on the Internet

Develop Your Treatment Plan

Guest Editor:  Debora Harvey, Patient Navigator LLC

About Elisabeth Schuler Russell

The curator of this blog is Elisabeth Schuler Russell, Founder and President of Patient Navigator, LLC. Her goal is to inform readers about important healthcare topics and teach them to become informed healthcare consumers.
This entry was posted in Cancer, Chronic Disease, Clinical Trials, Integrative Care, Mental Health, Other health issues, Pain and Palliative Care, Patient Centered Care, Problem Solving, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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