What Patients Want: Do Doctors Really Know?

3 Min Read

Do doctors know what their patients want? It might sound like an obvious question. But research suggests doctors are not as good at understanding their patients as they think. They may not have given adequate advice and their patients may not have given proper consent to treatment.

A report by Kings Fund in 2012 looked at the research. Its findings are shocking.

Breast Cancer

For instance, did women with breast cancer value length of life above all? When doctors were asked, they thought virtually all did. They put the figure at 96%. When the women were asked only 59% did. That means that doctors misunderstood what 1 in every 3 of these patients wanted.

How many women with breast cancer thought preserving their breast was a top priority? Doctors put the figure at 71%. When patients were asked the figure was 7%. The figure was only 1/10 of what doctors thought it was. One surgeon recently commented that he was always taught at medical school that preserving the breast was crucial to patients. What he was taught was wrong.

Prostate Disease

Another study looked at men with benign (ie not cancerous) prostate disease. They had problems passing urine. Men might have to go to the toilet often or find that emptying their bladder was a slow process. Surgery can make these symptoms better. But it can also cause erectile problems. When men were better informed, 40% fewer decided to have surgery. This suggests that doctors thought men – most of whom were over 60 – valued good bladder control more than being able to have sex. They were wrong.

Spinal Surgery

Finally a study was done of people with back pain from prolapsed (slipped) discs. This can cause a lot of pain. Many people have operations to remove part of the disc (‘discectomy’). This can reduce or get rid of pain. But there is a risk of serious injury – nerve damage, paralysis, bladder and bowel problems. Most people will get better in time even without surgery. When patients understood this, 30% fewer had surgery. Again, surgeons thought they understood what their patients wanted. But they were wrong.

Consent to Surgery

Doctors need to be able to spend more time with their patients, discuss all the options and get a better understanding of what their patients want. This is in fact what the law now expects them to do. They can only give the right advice if they understand what their patients want. In a separate blog I will explain this more. If they do not and their advice is found to be poor, their patients may not have properly consented to treatment.

Consent: Do I have a claim?

If patients have been badly advised and have not consented to their treatment, they may be entitled to damages.

If you are concerned about your surgery and would like advice, please contact a member of the Enable Law team. who will be happy to talk it through with you. You can call us on 0800 044 8488.