Are Doctors Too Optimistic?

Doctors were up front about their patients’ estimated survival 37 percent of the time; refused to give any estimate 23 percent of the time; and told patients something else 40 percent of the time. Around 70 percent of the discrepant estimates were overly optimistic.

This optimism is far from harmless. It drives doctors to endorse treatments that most likely won’t save patients’ lives, but may cause them unnecessary suffering and inch their families toward medical bankruptcy.

Source: The New York Times.

Comments (12)

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  1. J.J. says:

    There’s a human aspect to this.. Imagine how difficult it would be to notify a person and their family about the potentially life threatening condition that they are facing. Im not encouraging lying to a patient, or treating them as if they are fine when they are not, but I don’t think it is completely necessary to put things in the grimmest light.

  2. Stich says:

    “It drives doctors to endorse treatments that most likely won’t save patients’ lives”

    – This is a huge problem that should be studied further!

  3. Floccina says:

    This has been my of why people are over treated. Rather than malice (so they can bill more) I think it is most the natural over optimism that is natural to us humans. Also the reluctance to give bad news.

  4. Linda Gorman says:

    Obviously it is easy to point to cases in which family members or individuals using other people’s money want to do too much. But what about studies of physicians (and health systems) that are overly pessimistic?

    Plus, what about a possible mismatch between how one evaluates an individual’s chances at time t versus using population data developed at t minus whatever? Would we have seen progress in childhood leukemia if optimism about individual cases had been banned?

    The Times’ article link to the claimed cancer study doesn’t go anywhere useful. Makes it hard to evaluate the article’s claims.

  5. Kyle says:

    As I recall medical bankruptcy is an extremely small percentage. Goodman testified about that recently. Seems like a fantastic way to scare people into accepting ppaca.

  6. Jordan says:

    Aren’t there studies showing that optimistic patients actually do better? You would think that giving people hope couldn’t be all bad..

  7. Irving Toller says:

    @Jordan, my response to this article is similar to yours. The power of optimism is unrivaled. The mere will to live can extend life by more than medical treatment. False optimism can be dangerous though. Doctors should just tell the truth while encouraging an optimistic attitude.

  8. Hassan says:

    Sometimes I feel like Doctors are optimistic to keep their patients spirit up. Lets not forget, it is the doctor’s duty to take care of the patient to improve their lives. When one is burden with such difficult responsibilities, they must be optimistic.

  9. Zeratul says:

    It’s funny, because I remember reading an article sometime back that mentions how doctors have a really high depression rate.

  10. Kerrigan says:

    Sometimes I think being optimistic is a way to deal with the harsh cases doctors have to deal with.

  11. Devon Herrick says:

    Optimism is a good trait to have whether you’re ultimately proven wrong. Doctors probably realize this.

  12. Erik says:

    When I was first diagnosed with throat cancer my ENT told me that I had won the lottery as far as cancers are concerned. He told me mine was fully curable. He also told me I may someday die from cancer, but not this one. I took that information with me through treatment and the cancer doctors were greatly surprised at how well I accepted the treatment. It was all due to my ENT. He gave me hope…