Communicating conviction: A pilot study of patient perspectives on guidance during medical decision-making in the United States

Clinical Ethics (forthcoming)
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The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the difficult task of balancing access to misinformation with respect for patient decision-making. Due to its innate antagonism, the paradigm of “physician paternalism” versus “patient autonomy” may not adequately capture the clinical relationship. The authors hypothesized that most patients would, in fact, prefer significant physician input as opposed to unopinionated information when making medical decisions. There is a lack of empirical data corroborating this in the United States. To that end, a survey was distributed to 650 individuals through Amazon Mechanical Turk, of which 499 responses met pre-determined quality criteria. Most respondents believed their doctor's insight would be better than their own if injured or gravely ill. When asked to affirm preferences separately, a significantly higher proportion of respondents preferred guidance from their doctor when making medical decisions compared to being presented with unopinionated information ( p < 0.001). Encouragingly, 93.1% believed that the doctor's primary goal was their health. When asked directly to compare physician guidance to unopinionated information, 69.1% respondents stated they would prefer physician guidance. We found a consistent association between educational/economic background and affirmative responses ( p < 0.001), suggesting particular attention should be paid to patients that are disadvantaged with respect to these demographic factors. The belief in a shared goal, and a consistent preference for physician input, suggests that patients endorse a more collaborative view of the clinical dynamic than is suggested by the paternalism-autonomy paradigm. This pilot study suggests physicians should not be afraid to communicate conviction with regard to treatment decisions.



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Relational autonomy, normative authority and perfectionism.Catriona Mackenzie - 2008 - Journal of Social Philosophy 39 (4):512-533.
Feminist Perspectives on Autonomy.Natalie Stoljar - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Informed Consent and Relational Conceptions of Autonomy.N. Stoljar - 2011 - Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 36 (4):375-384.

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