Maybe doctors should have disclaimers

Why does is seem that so much information given to us comes with disclaimers? The weight loss product ads on TV that promise more than they will deliver, are always accompanied by 5 nanosecond disclaimers in a font size that can’t be discerned by the human retina stating that the results are not typical.

It seems deceptive to be advertising a product by showcasing a performance that the vendor admits is not typical.

Let’s extend this philosophy to other professions and trades.

Financial planner: Invest with us and earn 20% returns annually over 5 years. Results not typical.
Attorney: When I catch your ambulance, I’ll make us both millionaires. Results not typical.
SAT tutor: My students have the dilemma of choosing between Harvard and Princeton. Make your kids my kids. Results not typical.
Airline industry: When our customers call us on the 800 line, a live human answers by the 3rd ring. Results not typical.
Politician: I will always vote my conscience, mindful of those who elected me, without regard to politics or personal ambition. Results not typical.

Get the point? All of the above claims may be true as isolated aberrational events, but most of us would agree that they are not typical. How many weight loss pills would be sold if the viewers were shown the typical result?

I went to a Chicago to spend a weekend with my pal, Lewis. We treated ourselves to a high-end hotel. I approached the concierge for advice on a restaurant within walking distance. Fortunately, we didn’t have a car since the hotel’s daily parking rate was $75, including some exorbitant taxes. Who says extortion isn’t legal? I’ve stayed at hotels for less money than this.

I was interested in Thai cuisine and the concierge recommended a restaurant that was 15 minutes away on foot. I then asked what I thought was a reasonable question from a guest who was new to the city.

“Will we be walking through safe areas?”

She offered a response that I won’t forget for a long time.

“I’m sorry, sir. The hotel cannot give any safety advice. This issue is left to the discretion of our guests.”

On my honor, I am fairly recounting the vignette without embellishment. I won’t comment further as the absurdity of it is self-evident.

Thus far, I haven’t offered my patients any disclaimers when they come to see me, but perhaps I should remedy this for my own protection. Consider the following hypothetical anecdote.

“Dr. Kirsch, do you think I should go through with the surgery?”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Diverticulitis. Our practice cannot offer opinions on specific medical or surgical options. We defer these issues to the discretion of our patients.”

I hope readers agree that this post exudes wit and wisdom.

Yeah, I know. Results not typical.

Michael Kirsch is a gastroenterologist who blogs at MD Whistleblower

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  • Lisa

    I thought doctors do have disclaimers. Isn’t that why they have you sign a paper, stating that you have been notified of the possible side effects before surgery?

  • Lisa

    As a breast cancer patient, I had to choose among surgical options and reach decisions about adjunctive therapy after being given information about the alternatives. I was told I had to make the decision, but often felt like I didn’t have enough information to base a decision on. So I may have been somewhat facetious in my response, as well as ignoring the author’s point, but that is because I’ve been there.

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