Mounting research indicates that patient outcomes improve when physicians deliver empathetic and compassionate care. But a new study published in The Lancet Oncology suggests that physicians' objectivity can suffer when their relationships with patients veer too close into the realm of friendship.
These issues were particularly prevalent for young, friendly doctors, Medical Daily reported. Researchers' insights into oncologists surveyed included the following:
- Sixty percent of survey participants younger than 40 revealed that their closeness to patients could prevent them from making objective decisions about those patients' care.
- Two-thirds of patients younger than 30 admitted difficulty with being completely honest with patients they like.
- About half of the oncologists gave patients their personal cellphone numbers.
- Fourteen percent of respondents accepted patients as friends on Facebook.
"Oncology is a specialty that can be enormously rewarding but is fraught with many challenges," Lesley Fallowfield of Brighton and Sussex Medical School said in the study. "Young oncologists have to master dealing with anxious patients who are facing a life-threatening disease; conveying the true prognosis; discussing the complexity of modern treatments; and explaining the unavailability of some drugs, the side effects of treatment, and likely therapeutic aims."
Although opinions vary throughout the medical industry as to exactly where physicians should set professional boundaries, Fallowfield concluded that it's best for physicians to err on the side of caution in order to preserve sound desicion-making, especially in the age of social media.