Half of Physicians Favor Sharing Own Diagnosis With Patients

Marcia Frellick

June 28, 2019

Half of physicians in a recent Medscape poll said they favor or strongly favor disclosing their own diagnosis to patients.

However, answers varied by gender and age of the physician. More than half of male physicians (54%) said they favored such disclosure, while only 43% of their female counterparts answered that way.

Numbers of those who opposed or strongly opposed the idea were similar by gender: 24% of women said they were opposed to it vs 22% of men. A substantial percentage (34% of female and 24% of male respondents) did not feel strongly about the issue either way.

Younger physicians (under 44 years old) were as likely as physicians 45 and older (52% vs 49%) to favor disclosing personal diagnoses.

The poll, published on March 27, received 195 physician responses.

In March, Medscape Medical News wrote about Heather Thompson Buum, MD, a primary care physician in Minneapolis, Minnesota, who wrote about her decision to share her breast cancer diagnosis with some of her patients in an essay published online March 11 in the Annals of Family Medicine.

"It has been extremely rewarding to be able to use my experience to help others," Thompson wrote.

However, she acknowledged she still struggles with which patients to tell and how much to share.

Comments Illustrate Different Views

Comments on the story mostly agreed that sharing is a positive thing. Some said sharing helps build rapport with patients and lets them know they are not alone.

But others advised keeping a professional distance and warned that knowing a physician's diagnosis may make patients feel guilty for having their own needs or worried that their physician won't be able to see them through their care.

Numbers in the Medscape poll were much lower when physicians responded about whether they personally had shared such information and how often.

Only 21% responded that they always or frequently did and 44% said they rarely or never did.

Those numbers also varied by gender and age. Men were twice as likely as women to always or frequently share (26% vs 13%). Here the under-44 physicians were slightly less likely to always or frequently share than were those 45 and older (18% vs 23%).

The poll also invited responders to add comments on the issue.

Some of the wide-ranging responses included:

"Sometimes sharing a diagnosis (breaks) the professional barriers."

"Helps to establish a rapport with patients."

"Helpful to both the patient and me."

"I see patients with diabetic retinopathy quite often. They know that I can empathize with them."

"I did this when I was a medical student, but (not) now as a physician. Just because someone deals in a good way, it doesn't mean others will and when you share a diagnosis, a (patient) could see it as a comparison."

"I have neuropathy and am a neurologist. I share it with neuropathy patients when I think it might help them. I tend not to share it when they are a lot worse than I am, because I think it might actually discourage them."

"I think maintaining professional boundaries with one's patient is important in ensuring the same level of care for all patients."

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