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April 27, 1984


Author Affiliations

The Oregon Health Sciences University Portland

JAMA. 1984;251(16):2083. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03340400019008

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In Reply.—  I agree with Dr Davison that patients often press physicians for definite answers when none are to be had. This pressure also frequently arises from within, as a result of training that emphasizes correct answers and does not adequately prepare physicians to deal with the uncertainties of medicine.The answer to Dr Davison's complaint lies, at least in part, in helping the patient to accept an incomplete or indefinite answer. To my mind, the best person to do this is a physician who is comfortable with his or her own uncertainty and who can thereby provide comfort and support even when answers are lacking.Incidentally, a number of correspondents have requested the source of the cartoon mentioned in my essay, in which a physician asked that a patient's question be rephrased as a multiple choice. I saw it on a bulletin board at the Pennsylvania State University College