NEHW – I didn’t come to see you in case you told me I had a brain tumour

It’s National Eye Health Week this week and I thought I would mark it by showing the gulf between health care professionals and our patients! The title of this post polarises the views of my patients massively.

Some of my patients see health screening as an opportunity to detect disease early, ensuring early intervention. Early intervention means less treatment, less invasive treatment, shorter treatment and better treatment outcomes.

But human beings are not always motivated to apply rigour to their healthcare thinking. I meet patients every week who fail to report symptoms to the appropriate healthcare professional in case they get given bad news…and up until recently, I thought they were nuts!

These people are making an understandable but flawed assumption that any condition detected would be untreatable and therefore they are going to spoil what quality of life they do have, by worrying themselves sick. What you don’t know, can’t hurt you. Unfortunately, there is good reason to believe that these poor people are worrying themselves sick in any case and this is what leads them to their viewpoint.

There is indeed an interesting argument around untreatable conditions and whether patients are better off knowing or not. Some people would prefer not to know, and some will want to plan. Unfortunately, as patients it is impossible for us to advise our experts that you don’t want to know about that thing they’ve found…because you then know they’ve found a thing. Equally, it’s not ok for healthcare professionals to make the decision on behalf of patients that they do not want to know.

On balance, I still come firmly down on the side of assuming that I will be reassured by normal results coming back, that if I do have something it will be treatable, and if it isn’t, it will be managed better with active intervention. Indeed I would be able to plan my personal circumstances better if I know.

I liken it to crossing the road – if I look both ways I might still get run over, but it’s definitely less likely. We have the opportunity to manage the risk by taking pro-active positive steps with our health. So, have regular eye examinations…common things are common and rare things are rare. Don’t suffer permanent vision loss from a common, detectable, treatable condition, due to a fear of finding something statistically very unlikely.

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