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Clinically inappropriate patient demands of oncologists happen infrequently

February 12, 2015

While many physicians will cite "demanding patients" as the reason for high medical costs due to unnecessary tests or treatments, a new study conducted at outpatient oncology centers found that only 1 percent of 5,050 patient-clinician encounters resulted in a clinically inappropriate request, of which very few were complied with by physicians, according to a study published online by JAMA Oncology.

Physicians often contend that malpractice lawsuits force them to practice defensive medicine and that the proliferation of information has induced patients to demand expensive tests and treatments. However, few data exist about demanding patients, the clinical appropriateness of their demands and clinicians' compliance with their requests, according to the study background.

Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, and coauthors analyzed interviews with clinicians immediately after they visited with patients to assess whether a patient had made a demand, the type of request made and the clinical appropriateness of it. The interviews were conducted at outpatient oncology facilities at three Philadelphia-area hospitals between October 2013 and June 2014.

The authors evaluated 5,050 patient-clinician encounters involving 3,624 patients and 60 clinicians. Most of the patients were women and the most common cancer was hematologic (blood cancer).

Overall, 440 (8.7 percent) of the 5,050 encounters included a patient demand or request, such as for imaging studies, treatments or tests, and physicians complied with 365 (83 percent) of them. Of all 5,050 patient-clinician encounters, 316 (6.3 percent) had a clinically appropriate patient demand or request, while only 50 (1 percent) of the encounters had a clinically inappropriate request. Of the 50 clinically inappropriate demands or requests, clinicians complied with seven of them, which means that in just 0.14 percent of encounters (7 of 5,050) did clinicians order a test or treatment based on a clinically inappropriate request.

"At least in oncology, 'demanding patients' seem infrequent and may not account for a significant proportion of costs," the study concludes.

(JAMA Oncol. Published online February 12, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2014.197. Available pre-embargo to the media at

Editor's Note: Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

Editorial: Myth of the Demanding Patient

In a related editorial, Anthony L. Back, M.D., of the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, writes; "In this issue of JAMA Oncology, Gogineni and colleagues report on their empirical inquiry into patient demands, a nemesis that proves to be more mythical than real."

"The real point of the study by Gogineni et al, however, is this: we have to stop blaming patients for being demanding. In reality, it is hardly happening. The myth of the demanding patient is more about our own responses and how lackluster communication skills can contribute to difficult situations that stick in our throats and in our memories. And when we have calmed down enough to look up, we see that what is really happening between patients and physicians these days is something quite different," Back continues.

"It is possible that what the study by Gogineni et al documents is a point in the evolution of the patient-physician relationship when both sides recognize the complexity of cancer care belies a simple fix. Perhaps this 'negative' study is pointing to an important truth: that we need to redirect our attention from the myths that are distracting us," Back concludes.

(JAMA Oncol. Published online February 12, 2015. doi:10.1001/jamaoncol.2014.185. Available pre-embargo to the media at

Editor's Note: Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.
Media Advisory: To contact corresponding author Ezekiel J. Emanuel, M.D., Ph.D., call Anna Duerr at 215-349-8369 or email To contact editorial author Anthony L. Back, M.D., call Stephany Rochon at 206-838-3442 or email

The JAMA Network Journals

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