Doctor Priorities vs. Patient Priorities

May 7, 2014
doctor caring for an older female patient in a wheelchair

For a doctor, the number one priority is treating the patient’s illness. But for patients, their number one priority isn’t always their disease. A disease is just one part of someone’s life. So, what happens when your priorities and your doctor’s priorities don’t mix?

In a recent New York Times blog post, physician Danielle Ofri, M.D., recalled a particular patient she had—a well-informed, middle aged patient who was living with diabetes—and how shocked she was to hear he had been ignoring his disease for years, causing it to become drastically worse. However, he wasn’t overlooking his illness out of ignorance; the treatment for the disease simply was not suitable for his lifestyle and needs.

“For my patient, his wide-angle lens took in the whole of his life, of which diabetes was one small part. For me, in the 20 minutes allotted, my lens was narrowly focused on the disease that posed the gravest and most immediate risk to his health,” Dr. Ofri writes.

Living with a cancer diagnosis can be similar. The disease and its treatment can be disruptive to everyday life. However, it’s important to discuss your lifestyle, priorities and what options you have with your doctor so the disease can be treated effectively without compromising your lifestyle and your personal needs.

For the patient in the story, managing his disease meant having lengthy discussions with the doctor over both practical and philosophical matters, such as how a taxi driver who spent most of his day immobile and eating street-vendor food could adhere to the diet and exercise requirements necessary to control his disease. When discussing treatment, it’s important to talk to your doctor about these different facets of your life, such as how conducive your work or home life is to getting the type of diet and exercise you need, how your religious background could affect treatment, how to best manage side effects of treatment and the type of quality of life you can expect with treatment.

This blog shows that making a decision about treatment is never easy, and coming to an agreement with your health care team about what’s best for you can also be a unique challenge. Treatment isn’t just about the disease, but also how to make life “workable” for you. People living with cancer often run into dilemmas such as wanting to have hair for a family wedding, or wanting to feel healthy enough for a certain event. These concerns and requests are very common, and it’s important to let your doctor know about any individual goals you may have so you can work together to decide the best treatment plan. Click here to read the full New York Times blog.

At the Cancer Support Community, we recognize the delicate balance between having the lifestyle you’re comfortable with and treating your disease. Through open and honest communication with your doctor, you can find that balance without ignoring your disease or giving up your lifestyle. Programs like Open To Options help you come up with an organized list of what questions to ask and topics to discuss with your doctor so you can make a treatment decision right for you. Open To Options is made available through the Cancer Support Helpline, or through certain CSC Affiliate locations.