Sunday, May 16, 2021

Is Your Physician a 'Spin Doctor"?

Recently, I read about a judge’s decision on a legal dispute.  The facts aren’t important here.  As I read my newspaper’s summary of the decision, it was clear to me that one side won and the other side lost.  Yet, both sides claimed victory.  This is commonplace in the public square where a clear loser boasts of a victory that even a casual observer recognizes to be magical thinking.  In the case above, the loser who claimed victory wasn’t a corporate PR spinner, but was the county prosecutor.

Folks seem to have such a difficult time admitting error, poor judgment or failure. 

Here’s a hypothetical.  A man sues a company alleging wrongful termination.  In addition to demanding that he be re-hired, he has asked for an apology, a public clearing of his name in boldface on the weekly company newsletter, back pay with benefits, and $5,000 to cover medical and psychological expenses incurred as a direct result of his firing.

The judge awards the man all of his demands, but reduced the $5.000 demand to $3,500 as he felt that the larger amount was excessive.

Is there any doubt here who won this case?  Yet, here’s what we might expect the company’s PR magpie to crow in a press release.

All of us at Termination Enterprises are delighted with the judge’s decision to reject a disgruntled former employee’s demand for excessive payment.  In the spirit of reconciliation, we have decided to rehire the worker in accordance with the values of our company.


Spin is everywhere.  If a politician is queried about sagging poll numbers, here is what you won’t hear.

My poll numbers are down because my policies stink.

You are more likely to hear bromides such as the following:
  • I don’t pay attention to the polls.  Polls go up and down every day.
  • Considering how we are being outspent, it’s amazing how well we’re doing.
  • We’re exactly where we expected to be.
  • Our campaign doesn’t want to peak too early.
  • The only poll that matters is Election Day.
How does my profession handle the truth?  Now, I don’t regard myself and my medical colleagues to be liars, but we have been known to massage a phrase from time to time, as I have written in a prior post.   Similar to the hypothetical company referenced at the top of this post, physicians sometimes claim victory with irrational enthusiasm.

Claim: We are very pleased that the tumor has decreased in size. 
Truth:  This result will not change your life expectancy.

Claim: I recommend fiber supplements for your irritable bowel syndrome.
Truth:  Every doctor does this despite no proof of benefit.

Claim: I agree with you that an antibiotic makes sense here..
Truth: Antibiotics do nothing for colds except risk complications and cost money.

Claim: I’m sorry I’m late.  Something came up at the hospital.
Truth: I overslept.

Just because something is not true does not make it an outright lie.  Nevertheless, when your doctor makes a recommendation to you, ask about the medical evidence that supports the advice.  If the evidence is beyond a reasonable doubt, then you may decide the case accordingly.  If the evidence falls short, then you may decline the advice and claim victory.

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