Blaming patients: a very human temptation

Being a good doctor requires positive emotional work, understanding, liking, sympathising, commiserating and finding, together with the patient, the best route through a difficult situation.

Illusions of Autonomy

Being human, doctors sometimes blame others when things go wrong. Because they spend most of their time interacting with patients, there is a temptation to blame them. The purist might argue that a patient can never be responsible for suboptimal care, medical error or lifestyle associated disease, but the issue is complicated and deserving of examination. The word blame not only implies fault, indicating that harm is directly related to a person’s actions or omissions, but that they are not deserving of sympathy. If we accept that sympathy is a necessary precursor to empathy, through the stirring of compassion and the will to do the emotional work that is required, its absence could compound a patient’s sense of isolation and vulnerability. Responsibility is a more subtle term, but its effect is the same – the shifting expectation away from the doctor and towards the patient. But patients do have…

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