Sunday, December 13, 2020

Do All Patients Want Good Medical News?

It is a pleasure to give patients favorable medical news.  It’s an even greater pleasure to receive it.  Technology has replaced so much of our wholesome and human interactions.  Book stores are disappearing.  Handwritten thank you notes?  Nearly extinct.  The corner hardware store where the owner knows your family?  Today, we have Big Box warehouses where, if you hire a private investigator, you might be able to find a hiding salesman. 

Need a salesman?  Hire Sherlock!

The joy and relief that a patient and family feel when the physician says that all will be well has no technological equivalent.   We have all had anxiety about our own health or the well-being of those we care about.   When the physician enters the room to deliver news, there is fear and tension knowing that lives may change after just a few sentences are uttered.

Fortunately, the vast majority of the news I deliver is just what patients and families want to hear.
  • The biopsy result was benign.
  • The CAT scan was normal.
  • You won’t need surgery after all.
Paradoxically, I have discovered over the years that many patients are downright disappointed when they receive good medical news.  Gastroenterologists like me evaluate thousands of patients with chronic digestive symptoms, such as pain, nausea and bloating.  Although these symptoms are 100% real, diagnostic testing often shows no abnormalities.   I cannot count how many instances in my career that patients are upset to learn that the test results were normal.  Now, of course, these patients don’t want to learn that they have a serious medical condition.  But, they do want an answer and are frustrated that no clear explanation is apparent.  We physicians understand their frustration, but we are relieved that these patients are not facing a dire medical threat.

Here’s my profound summary comment.  Good medical news is a gift, even if it leaves some medical issues unexplained. 

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