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Doctors need to help patients prepare better for health decisions
Date:9/28/2010

ANN ARBOR, Mich.---Twelve years ago, then 28-year-old graduate student Brian Zikmund-Fisher was forced into the toughest choice of his life: Die from a blood disorder within a few years or endure a bone marrow transplant that could cure him or kill him in weeks.

Zikmund-Fisher, now an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health specializing in health communication, chose to gamble. After nine months of blood transfusions, a bone marrow match was found in Australia. Zikmund-Fisher spent another month in isolation until his new immune system began working.

"That experience taught me how to be a well-informed patient," said Zikmund-Fisher, who studies medical decision making because of his own experience. "Unfortunately, today many patients don't learn what they need to in order to make informed medical decisions."

To document the challenges patients face in deciding their own medical care, Zikmund-Fisher and Mick Couper, a research professor in survey methodology at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), led a national survey of medical decisions featured this month in a themed issue of the journal Medical Decision Making. The study, which was carried out by ISR's Survey Research Center, surveyed more than 3,000 U.S. adults about nine common medical decisions and concluded that the majority of patients don't have sufficient information to make the best decisions.

"I want to raise the awareness of how important medical decision making is in the lives of all Americans and how unprepared most people are to make these decisions," said Zikmund-Fisher, also an assistant professor in Internal Medicine at the U-M Health System. "I see this as a public health issue."

Some of the key findings:

  • Patients don't always learn about why not to have a procedure or medication. For example, only 20 percent of patients considering breast cancer screening and 49 percent of patients con
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Contact: Laura Bailey
baileylm@umich.edu
734-764-1552
University of Michigan
Source:Eurekalert

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