The Responsibility of Doctors to Motivate Their Cancer Patients

In Breast Cancer, Creating Happiness, Recent Posts by Barbara Jacoby

Awhile back, I read an article about the different ways in which doctors try to motivate their patients to engage in some sort of behavior modification. Different techniques were discussed that can be utilized to prod patients into losing weight, to quit smoking, to exercise more, to take their medications, etc. However, the more that I read that story, the sadder I became. What in heaven’s name are we expecting of our doctors when they need to take their very valuable time to find ways to get grownups to do what they already know they should be doing?

If you truly are having a hard time with any issue of your treatment, then by all means, talk to your doctor and be open and honest.Barbara Jacoby

I do understand that there are times when someone knows that they need to change their behavior and they really don’t know how to go about. If they choose to ask their doctor for help, that is wonderful and the doctor should take the time to assist and direct them in any way possible. However, why should any doctor feel responsible to find ways to talk to the patient who is not taking their recommended medications? Why should a doctor feel the need to talk once again to the smoker who has been diagnosed with lung cancer but who refuses to stop smoking? Why is there a need for a doctor to find a technique that will convince a patient to get the necessary tests that they need in order to determine the best course of treatment for them? This is a complete waste of time and effort and energy, if you ask me.

Every single person who gets a cancer diagnosis is given information by their medical professions about what needs/should be done in order to obtain the best outcome for the patient. No one needs to have the doctor chastise them, scold them, embarrass them, bully them or just generally disrespect them in order to have them follow their orders. In fact, if you ask most people, especially those who “hate” to go to the doctor, it is because they don’t want to have to deal with that aspect of their visits in the doctor’s office. And I am sure that every single one of us knows someone whose life was at risk if they did not change certain behaviors and that still was not enough of a motivation. So, what’s the answer?

I believe that everyone who chooses risky or bad behavior has a very real reason behind their choice. As a result, no medical doctor who tries to change that behavior without addressing the underlying issue will have success. Therefore, to continue to browbeat a person in order to get the desired results just won’t work and will alienate the patient every single time. And if a more subtle approach is used and the patient is still not willing to address the matter then it should be immediately dropped.

It is time for the medical doctors to utilize their time as doctors. With the changes that have occurred where less and less time is available to spend with the patients, it is time to let go of feeling responsible about not being able to make the changes for those patients who choose not to change. It is like the old adage, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink”. If a patient will not follow directions as outlined by the doctor, it is not the responsibility of the doctor.

For the patients, it is time to step up to the plate and take responsibility for your own behavior. You know what you are doing and it is up to you to make any necessary changes that are required. If it is a matter that you are not comfortable with the information that you have received or the direction that your doctor has given to you about your treatment, it is up to you to get a second opinion (or third, or fourth, etc.) until you trust the information that you have been given. But, it is not the doctor’s responsibility to spend time and effort on finding ways to make you comply when you are having a problem with doing so.

If you truly are having a hard time with any issue of your treatment, then by all means, talk to your doctor and be open and honest. That is why they have trained so long and hard in order to help. Hopefully, you will be able to reach an accord on how best to move forward.

Bottom line, it is up to the individual to decide what to do and therefore, it is the responsibility of that person to create the life that they wish for themselves. No one can change another person, not even a doctor. And while not every medical problem can be improved or eliminated by behavioral changes, many can be and it is up to each person to decide what they should and can do, not the doctors. It may ultimately be a matter of life and death.