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Why Parents May Push for Meds Against Doc's Advice

Survey dealt with hypothetical diagnosis of digestive disorder in young child
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The result: Those parents who were given a GERD diagnosis ended up being interested in treating their infant with drugs despite being specifically cautioned that drugs wouldn't work.

By contrast, parents who were not offered a single disease label to describe their infant's crying and spitting symptoms only expressed an interest in drug treatment if the physician did not raise the issue of the drug's ineffectiveness. This left parents to assume that the relevant drugs worked.

When medicinal ineffectiveness was discussed, these parents expressed no eagerness to launch a drug treatment.

"It's important for both patients and doctors to know that these kinds of labels can influence how parents or patients respond to symptoms," Scherer said. "Words have the power to make a normal process seem like something that requires medical intervention," she explained.

"It's also important," she added, "for parents or patients to listen to the whole story. Is the doctor saying that these symptoms will go away on their own, or that available medications don't work all that well? That information is just as important as the disease label."

For his part, Dr. David Dunkin -- an assistant professor of pediatrics in the division of pediatric gastroenterology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City -- said the survey findings get to the very heart of the doctor-parent relationship. He was not involved with the new study.

"It's the job of the physician to be a partner with the parent, and to give them the information that they need about the child's condition, but also about what the side effects, risks and benefits are of treatment," Dunkin said. "Because, in my case, I often see patients who have already been referred by a pediatrician, and already come in with the idea that their baby has reflux [GERD], without really having had the situation explained to them fully," he noted.

"But while this conversation is happening it's very important that physicians be very careful about what they say and how they say it," Dunkin added. "We have to be sure to explain things thoroughly and in a language that parents won't misunderstand. And if they don't understand, you have to give parents a chance to ask questions. Because while you may be strongly recommending something, in the end you really have to make the decision together."

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