At the intersection of the Hippocratic Oath, hypocrisy and human nature lies the question: Do doctors practice what they preach … on themselves and their families?

It’s a great question, the answer to which Duke University business school researchers have published by way of informing the healthcare-consuming public and healthcare practitioners alike how it is that decision-making in medicine often happens.

Here’s an excerpt from American Public Media’s Marketplace radio show (which is how I heard about this cool new research):

You go to the doctor, she hears your problem, she gives you some advice and guidance and you walk away thinking that's the same set of recommendations she'd follow herself. Seems totally reasonable.

And possibly quite entirely wrong. Because a study out today from Duke University shows that if you ask a doctor: "What do you recommend I do?" and then you ask, "Yeah, but what would you do if you were me?" you might get two different answers.

Yes, this curious new study informs us that a significant majority of human healthcare providers may be rational in how they dole out prescriptions for treatment … yet lack rationality in how they would consume healthcare for themselves.

In part, the study asked physicians whether they’d be willing to undergo vaccination which may result in a rare but unfortunate side effect (paralysis) and how that compares to whether they’d recommend it for their patients. So, too, did the study attempt to eke out the disparity between other, aggressive modes of treatment that are recommended vs. modes of treatment physicians claim they’d rather choose for themselves.

In general, it turns out that most human healthcare providers surveyed (all of them physicians) would always opt for the less aggressive and least scientifically substantiated approach for themselves, while taking the more aggressive, most rational approach on behalf of their patients. (In the examples offered by the study, the most rational approaches happened to coincide with aggressiveness.)

It was at this point in the discussion that researchers felt it crucial to raise the issue: Could it be that healthcare providers are not best qualified to practice on themselves? That rational, third-party recommendations lead to the best outcomes?

That’s my hypothesis, anyway. Indeed, I find it extraordinarily difficult to justify practicing on my own pets. Not when others are undoubtedly better qualified to make rational decisions on their behalf. Because if it were up to me, I’d waste most of my decision-making moments suffering spasms of indecision in between embarrassingly brief moments of lucidity — none of which would be long enough to allow me to make a rational decision.

Hence, why I always outsource my own pets’ major calamities to other doctors. And why it is that once you find that one trustworthy practitioner or hospital, it’s always best just to give up the drivers’ seat and allow someone else to steer — for a change.

Dr. Patty Khuly

Pic of the day: Does she floss? by cattoo