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Can patients cope with uncertainty?

‘So where are we with addressing uncertainties about the effects of treatments? . . . Despite general acknowledgement that patients are partners in medical research and healthcare decisions, the complexity of discussing therapeutic uncertainty is unnerving some doctors. Some are simply fearful of provoking anxiety – doubtless a genuine concern but nevertheless paternalistic. Others try to justify their actions in terms of a balance between two ethical arguments – whether the ethical duty to tell the truth extends to being explicit about uncertainties versus the moral obligation to protect patients from emotional burden. Are patients prepared to live with uncertainty? We need to find out. Perhaps people are far more resilient than doctors suspect.’

Evans I. More nearly certain. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2005;98:195-6.

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