Handling The Truth

How would you react to a doctor who, instead of explaining the entirety of your medical options, simply said “trust me, this is the right choice.” Maybe that style of “care” worked a generation or two back, but today’s patients have access to any piece of medical information that their doctors do. Patients want to know as much as they can so they can make the best choices for themselves or their loved ones.
Why do I bring this up? Well, because I got a call the other day from a patient who was seeking for more information about his options for fatherhood after vasectomy. He had an older vasectomy, 25 years or so, and a wife who was 40 years old. He met with two doctors in other cities and asked them about vasectomy reversal and sperm retrieval with assisted reproduction. Both of these are options for vasectomized men. Both urologists said, “forget it!” The patient was stunned. He just wanted information to help him decide how he was going to approach the family building issue. Instead, he received no information, and, without asking, he was told what he should do. Forget it.
Two things are still true after visiting these two doctors:
1. He still wants a family.
2. He knows no more than he did before about how to achieve this goal.
Now what is wrong with this picture? Patients do not necessarily depend on doctors for information; they can get that almost anywhere on the Web. However, they do depend on doctors for wisdom and knowledge–the interpretation of information as it applies to the patient. I believe that life is a journey, one that involves many forks in many roads. Some are chosen and others are not. In the end, there is a story, a memory, of the path that was taken. Making decisions about medical care is also part of the journey that we all take. As doctors, we are obliged to use our experience and wisdom to help patients face decisions and choices that affect their health, their budgets and often their very lives. A patient’s “trust” is earned and is not gifted to doctors. Be their trusted consultant, someone who they can rely on for good solid information and wisdom. Unlike what Col. Nathan R. Jessep says in A Few Good Men, patients can handle the truth.
In my discussion with this patient, I gave him the facts about each choice. Older vasectomies are less successful at being reversed than younger ones, but the results are still very respectable in the right hands. His wife’s age could influence his decision either way, especially if she has limited time left to have children. Pregnancies after reversals of older vasectomies occur later than those after younger vasectomies. Sperm retrieval and assisted reproduction
can be a faster, albeit more expensive, way to conceive. If more than one child is desired, then assisted reproduction can get very expensive compared to vasectomy reversal. No value judgments, just the facts. There are lots of ways to build families and patients armed with good informaton can decide which way is best for them.
It has always been my philosophy as a physician and surgeon to walk the walk with the patient. Even stepping into their shoes and taking the journey with them. This makes good sense in situations in which outcomes cannot be guaranteed. Sure, I will offer an opinion if they ask, “what would you do?” However, in my brief stay on this good earth, I have found that the educated consumer always makes the best choices.