A new study published in the medical journal the Archives of Internal Medicine details the differences in the ways physicians treat patients versus treatments they’d select for themselves.
Interestingly, doctors were far more likely to chance death in their own treatments than those offered to patients, opting for riskier hypothetical therapies during the study. 940 primary care physicians were surveyed during the study’s course, and presented with two hypothetical scenarios involving colon cancer and avian flu:
One option in the colon-cancer scenario was an operation that completely cures 80% of patients with no complications, fails to cure 16% of patients —meaning they will die within two years—and cures but leads to complications such as a colostomy or chronic diarrhea for the remaining 4%. The other option was a different surgery that also cures 80% of patients without any complications, but fails to cure 20% of patients.
The option with a lower risk of death may seem to be the logical choice. But 38% of physicians tasked with weighing the decision for themselves picked the treatment with the higher death rate—preferring not to risk complications. Only 25% of the physicians in the other group said they would recommend a patient go that route. In the avian-flu scenario, 63% picked the treatment with the highest chance of death for themselves, with 49% recommending it for patients.
Physician Peter Ubel commented on the findings and said that while doctors may not always select the higher-risk treatments for themselves off the bat, that different “psychological biases” come in to play when considering their own treatments. Ubel advises allowing a doctor to get to know you before asking for advice on issues such as quality versus length of life.