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November 14, 2013

When physicians 'overshare' with patients, their care suffers

Daily Briefing

    Writing in the New York Times' "Well' this week, Bellevue Hospital physician Danielle Ofri explains why doctors sharing personal stories with patients can be detrimental to their care.

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    Ofri describes an experience in which she overheard a new patient's phone call with her child's teacher. A mother herself, Ofri writes that she was tempted to reveal her own parenting challenges as a way to connect.

    "And now as I sat with my new patient, a woman who in most ways was so vastly different from me, I wondered if sharing some of the communalities we did have would enhance our alliance, and give us a better chance at tackling her medical issues," Ofri writes. But, Ofri stopped herself, recalling an article in the Annals of Internal Medicine that cautioned against physicians self-disclosing.

    Although it may seem natural to reveal to a patient that a family member suffered from the same condition or another personal detail, "such self-disclosures often [turn] out not to be helpful in addressing patients' concerns or building rapport," Ofri writes, adding that patients may even interpret such disclosures as "disruptive."

    Ofri describes another scenario in which she opted to disclose information about her family. However, the conversation quickly turned awkward, with the patient sounding plaintive about the information that Ofri had shared. "I felt terrible that I might have done something detrimental," she writes.

    "Personal details, if appropriate, should only be used to assist the patient, and the focus quickly moved back to the patient," Ofri concludes (Ofri, "Well," Times, 11/12).

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