In a blog in Forbes, Peter Ubel asks, “Do Oncologists Lie to Their Patients About Their Prognoses?” Ubel shares a case study in which an oncologist gave a patient a false and overly optimistic estimate of his chance for remission. He says of the doctor’s action, “The oncologist’s behavior that day, the sudden switch from 5% to 20%, is a common phenomenon shaping communication between doctors and patients near the end of life. Indeed, I have exhibited this same behavior. I have let my hope and optimism, my ‘hopetimism?’, interfere with accurate communication. “
Dr. Ubel’s blog entry is adapted from his book, “Critical Decisions: How You and Your Doctor Can Make the Right Medical Choices Together.”
Andrews was easily the most anxious patient I took care of that month, a gray Michigan February (is there any other kind?) which I spent in the hospital caring for patients admitted to the general medical ward at the Ann Arbor Veterans Affairs Medical Center. (Andrews is a pseudonym, as are all the patients I blog about, unless otherwise indicated.) He had plenty to be anxious about, too. His leukemia was raging out of control, his blood looking like pus, teeming as it was with malignant white blood cells. At his age—he was almost 60—and after a decade of chronic bone marrow cancer, his disease was especially dangerous. Odds were high he would survive for less than a year.