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October 1987

Patients Who Refuse Treatment in Medical Offices

Author Affiliations

From the Division of General Medicine (Dr Connelly) and the Department of Religious Studies (Dr Campbell), the University of Virginia Medical Center, Charlottesville.

Arch Intern Med. 1987;147(10):1829-1833. doi:10.1001/archinte.1987.00370100143024

• Five hundred sixty-two consecutive patient visits to a medical office were prospectively evaluated for the presence of ethical problems. During 23 (4.0%) visits, patients refused recommended medical intervention. Refusal was defined as the rejection of preventive health measures, diagnostic evaluation, hospitalization, and other office procedures. Preventive health measures, vaccinations, and cancer screening were the most common types of intervention refused (n =10). Diagnostic studies, such as roentgenograms, biopsies, and cardiac stress testing were also commonly refused (n =9). The reasons for the refusal included psychologic factors, such as fear and anxiety, previous "bad" experiences with the recommended intervention, distrust of physicians, and problems of communication. Fourteen patients suffered no major consequences from their refusal, five of whom were seen twice during the study. Five patients had a delayed diagnosis and one patient died of a myocardial infarction after refusing hospitalization for unstable angina.

(Arch Intern Med 1987;147:1829-1833)