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January 6, 1984

Memo to JAMA

JAMA. 1984;251(1):85. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340250063026

I have often noted a peculiar trait in physicians. It seems that many of them greatly underestimate the capacity of their patients to understand their physical problems. Most persons seeking medical assistance are filled with questions and concerns, although, granted, some are able to articulate them better than others.

Is it the physician's duty merely to treat? Or does he have an extended obligation to offer, whenever possible, information that might cultivate the patient's understanding of his condition, so that he might participate in treatment, or at least have a greater awareness of the disorder? (After all, the patient is the one who goes home with it.)

Many doctors seem impatient and reluctant to answer questions, when explanations, somewhat simplified and tailored to the person, would be so helpful and welcome. The implication of this reserved attitude seems to be that they possess knowledge that patients are incapable of comprehending.