Physicians often don't take their own treatment advice

When it comes to giving treatment advice, what physicians are likely to tell patients and what they would do themselves often do not line up, according to a study published this week in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The study was based on a survey with two sets of questions sent to internists and family physicians across the country. One set addressed different types of hypothetical colon cancer surgery while the other asked about a bird flu treatment.

When encountering a hypothetical treatment situation in which they had the role as the sick individuals, physicians often would pick the one that had a higher risk of death--but fewer overall side effects.

Of 242 physicians who answered the colon cancer questionnaire, 38 percent said they would go with the surgery that carried a higher risk of death but fewer side effects for themselves. However, only 25 percent said they would recommend that treatment to their hypothetical patients. Meanwhile, for the bird flu treatment, 63 percent said they would go with the higher risk treatment versus 49 percent.

While less than half the physicians receiving the questionnaire returned it, one of the researchers, Peter Ubel, MD, of Duke University, told Reuters Health that he believes the findings represent most physicians in the U.S.

Physicians may be acting more on emotion and irrational biases when their decisions address themselves instead of someone else, Ubel said. "It has nothing to do with moral. It has everything to do with human nature. The doctors don't even know they are behaving this way."

For more information:
- view the Archives of Internal Medicine abstract
- see the Reuters Health article
- see the Boston Globe article