Doctors have duty to stop patients from making misinformed choices

In an ideal situation, patients who ask more questions, research more thoroughly, interact more meaningfully with their doctors and participate in their own illnesses more actively, do bring about better eventualities in the resolution of medical problems ("The doctor will see you now - in a new light"; yesterday).

The paternalistic doctor-passive patient model is long due for a change, and has already been evolving in the last 30 years.

The democratic participation of patients enhances their accountability and empowerment, resulting in a more meaningful and equal relationship with their doctors.

Where patients can show a detailed personal health record, inform fully of their medications and supplements, and apprise health givers of their advocates and social support, more appropriate therapies, better management strategies and monitoring of adverse outcomes can be tailored.

Yet, we have to face the reality of implementation, seeing that there is such a diversity of patients to handle, and the overload of information is as inimical as the lack of it.

Many, including the educated, cannot make sense of what the doctor tells them.

They generally classify diagnoses under two categories - small or big problems.

Where small, they expect the doctor to prescribe some miraculous cure and are not interested in the intricacies of the disease anymore.

Where big, all rational thought disappears, panic sets in and patients will not remember anything of the consultation thereafter.

Then there will be another group of patients who have imbibed so much disinformation from the Internet and are so engrossed in trivial inconsequentialities that they cannot see the wood for the trees and opt for the worst sort of non-empirical treatment.

Doctors must be kindly, empathetic and compassionate, offering different bona fide medico-social avenues and channels to help empower patients.

But even as we adopt a more open-minded approach, doctors must be strong bastions against the poor choices made by ailing patients who think they know better but actually do not - a common enough occurrence.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2016, with the headline 'Doctors have duty to stop patients from making misinformed choices'. Print Edition | Subscribe