Dr. Joseph Sirven: Honesty Is The Best Policy

Published: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 8:22am
Updated: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 8:23am
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Dr. Joseph Sirven
Dr. Joseph Sirven

My patient says, “I have a confession to make and please don’t get mad. I haven’t taken the medicines you’ve prescribed. Will you still help me?” 

“Of course I’ll help,” I gently respond. “But why didn’t you take the medication?”

My patient tears up and provides me a list of concerns.

“Let’s get to figuring out how I can help.” I say.

Ironically, a few weeks after that encounter during my yearly checkup, I found myself admitting to my own doctor to not following his advice either.                        

The bedrock of all medicine is the sacred trust between doctor and patient. Within the exam room, there’s an expectation that truths will be revealed regardless of how uncomfortable. Both the doctor and patient will share in making medical decisions. Yet, recent studies show that the number of patients not following directions from their doctor is climbing. There are a number of reasons including treatment costs, side effects and not understanding risks. The World Health Organization estimates that only 50% of patients will follow a treatment recommendation even for life threatening infections or cancers.  

As a result, new technologies are coming to assess adherence to your medical treatment plan. From special medicine bottle caps that ping your physician that a pill bottle has been opened to sci-fi pill capsules powered by edible batteries that deliver a coded signal only when the capsule is actually digested. Soon, our word will no longer be the only option. 

We’re all human, and we have moments when we just won’t follow through for any number of good reasons. So take the time to share an issue about your treatments-- often doctors can help!   

Sadly, these new “faithfulness” technologies are shifting the doctor patient relationship to: “Trust, but verify.” So, when it comes to your health, honesty really is the best policy. And that applies to me too.

Dr. Sirven is the chairman of neurology at the Mayo Clinic.

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