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November 30. 2012 10:01PM

Study: Patients need more info from doctors to make decisions

Patients are not being given enough information by their doctors to make decisions about types of treatment, the authors of a study done for a New Hampshire health policy think tank claim.

Researchers at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice studied the treatment of patients in different parts of the country and found significant variations in the treatment of patients with similar illnesses.

The existence of such differences led to the report's conclusion that "patients' preferences are not always taken into account" when medical decisions are made.

"Geography is destiny," said Dr. David Goodman, a co-author of the study. "We think there are methods that can really change this and provide better care for patients."

The study compares the way similar ailments are treated in different locations.

For example, the study finds that residents of Manchester are half as likely to receive surgery for back pain as patients in Winstead, Conn. Manchester area men are half as likely to receive a certain blood test for prostate cancer as a patient in Providence, R.I.

The study examined treatment options and choices in 11 medical procedures.

Goodman said the study reflects a need for patients to have more in-depth discussions with their providers about options for treating illness and injury.

More training of physicians in how to present treatment options is recommended, as is recognition by medical schools and accrediting authorities that doctors need to spend more time helping patients decide their best course of action.

Goodman said a greater value on talking with patients about different types of treatment needs to be part of the way health care is funded.

"Reimbursement mechanisms are skewed toward procedures and away from spending time with patients," Goodman said.

The New England study was the first of a series of reports to be released exploring differences in medical treatment choices in different regions of the country.

billsmith@unionleader.com