A study of cancer patients and their doctors in the Annals of Internal Medicine a year later found that many doctors didn’t quite tell patients the truth about their prognosis. Doctors were up front about their patients’ estimated survival 37 percent of the time; refused to give any estimate 23 percent of the time; and told patients something else 40 percent of the time. Around 70 percent of the discrepant estimates were overly optimistic.
This optimism is far from harmless. It drives doctors to endorse treatments that most likely won’t save patients’ lives, but may cause them unnecessary suffering and inch their families toward medical bankruptcy.
One source of this optimism is pop culture, which frequently depicts heroic recoveries from seemingly life-threatening situations. Another is the medical school experience. What motivates weary medical students is the hope that one day interventions they perform will save lives, heal families and enact cosmic good.
Haider Warraich also had a piece two weeks ago about witnessing the aftermath of one of the marathon bombs. He had lived through war and violence growing up in Pakistan, he wrote. It did little to prepare him for the Boston blast beyond heightening his fear of looking like a suspect.