Choices--often driven by Insurance Companies & Doctors Who Don't Supply Enough JIT Information
Awash in Information, Patients Face a Lonely, Uncertain Road
By JAN HOFFMAN
Published: August 14, 2005
Nothing Meg Gaines endured had prepared her for this moment. Not the six rounds of chemotherapy for ovarian cancer that had metastasized to her liver. Not the doctor who told her, after Ms. Gaines was prepped for surgery, that he could not operate: a last-minute scan revealed too many tumors. "Go home and think about the quality, not the quantity, of your days," he said.
Not the innumerable specialists whom Ms. Gaines, then 39 and the mother of two toddlers, had already mowed through in her terrified but unswerving effort to save her own life. Not the Internet research and clinical trial reports, all citing the grimmest of statistics. Not the fierce, frantic journey she made, leaving home in Wisconsin to visit cancer centers in Texas and California.
Now, just about out of options, Ms. Gaines faced an excruciating decision. Her last-ditch chemotherapy regimen did seem to be working. Three medical oncologists thought she should stick with it. But two surgical oncologists thought she should first try cryosurgery, injecting liquid nitrogen into the tumors to shrink as many as possible, and then following up with chemotherapy, allowing it to be more effective.
The catch? Ms. Gaines's chances of even surviving the procedure were uncertain.
"Who will decide?" she asked a surgeon from Los Angeles.
The doctor then recited what has become the maddening litany of medical correctness: "We're in the outer regions of medical knowledge," he said, "and none of us knows what you should do. So you have to make the decision, based on your values."
Ms. Gaines, bald, tumor-ridden and exhausted from chemotherapy, was reeling. "I'm not a doctor!" she shouted. "I'm a criminal defense lawyer! How am I supposed to know?"
The comment that reasonated with me because of what happened with the specialist here:
"People want to feel a part of their health care," said David Mechanic, a medical sociologist at Rutgers University. "But they don't want to be abandoned to making decisions all on their own. When a doctor says, 'Here are your options,' without offering expert help and judgment, that is a form of abandonment. "