“What would you do if you were me?” This is a loaded question with a multitude of variables that can affect the decision and the answer.

If your patient is asking this question of you, remind him or her that in health care, the clinician strives to guide the person toward optimum health and disease prevention with the best quality of life.

I believe that the course of action an individual choses and what another person feels he or she should do are affected not just by the best course of treatment at the time but by personal morals as well. A patient cannot completely escape the beliefs that have been instilled throughout life. Therefore, it may be tricky for you as the provider to separate best medical advice from personal opinion.

Isn’t it true that clinicians do not make good patients, often refusing the advice that they so frequently give to others? With this being said, I can honestly say that sometimes I can easily tell the patient what I would do if it were me, and other times the answer is very convoluted.

Consider this example: A mother is worried about giving her child an antibiotic for a streptococcal pharyngitis infection because the child has never taken antibiotics before. If this were my child I would, without a doubt, use the antibiotic. The risks of not treating with an antibiotic are too severe for me to chance with my child. So, in that scenario, stating what I would do is a no-brainer.

However, this is a relatively bland application of the question, “What would you do if you were me?” If my patient asked me this question because he or she had been given a diagnosis of a debilitating or terminal illness, my answer would not come so quickly or easily.

Many factors come into play for the patient who is confronting a lifetime of illness or the possibility of death in the near future:

  • Would the disease have an impact on my physical or psychological well-being?
  • Do I have a support system?
  • Are my children grown?
  • Do I have the financial means for the best treatment options?

The place where a person is in life upon receiving critical health news plays a great role in deciding how to move forward. I’m sure there have been cases in which the health-care provider has looked into radical treatment options for a patient who has been told he or she has little time left, only for the patient to decide to accept whatever the future holds without enlisting any extreme measures.

Such radical treatments may be what that particular health-care provider would choose for himself or herself; other clinicians might decide to live out what time is left with a focus on quality rather than on quantity.

Some health-care issues may be simple or cut-and-dried, whereas others may require both the provider and the patient to do research, think over the options and discuss the possibilities with others. Whatever decision the patient makes, the clinician should remain neutral and unbiased.

Providing the necessary information regarding all possible treatments and outcomes available while allowing the patient to come to his or her own decision about the most appropriate course of action is the best care a clinician can offer to someone who is facing a significant medical issue.

Although it may be difficult to keep your personal feelings out if it, be sure to remember these factors when your patient asks you the question, “What would you do?”