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Explanations to the Patient

Robert F. Sanke, MD
JAMA. 1984;252(10):1279. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03350100013008.
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To the Editor.—  The article entitled "Memo to JAMA"1 must certainly have aroused reflection within the medical profession. The patient indeed has the right to know his or her diagnosis, even if it is limited to the vague statement, "I'm not positively sure just yet, but I think that probably..." He or she may also expect a brief explanation of the disease mechanism in lay terms. Other considerations aside, this facilitates patient compliance.While important, the teaching aspect of medical practice is neither absolute nor immutable, however, and must be tempered to the particular patient and circumstances. Most physicians, I suspect, are pleased to explain a diagnosis or disease process to an interested patient. The same depth of explanation obviously cannot be used for every patient, nor is it possible with every disorder. Yet, ideally, some element of teaching is present in each patient encounter.Some patients are more


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