Part of being an exercise therapist that specializes in bone health is navigating the murky waters of doctor recommended treatments. At least once a week, I speak to someone who has been given a recent osteoporosis diagnosis by their doctor and they are scared to death. It appears that there is a tendency to use scare tactics in order to influence the patient’s decision on how the treat their osteoporosis.
In 2015 there were several doctors that wrote a piece on these scare tactics and how doctors are using them to influence their agenda. They call it Fear-Based Medicine, and there have been studies conducted to determine whether or not these methods are effective.
Fear appeals create an emotional reaction to some “threat” of disease, disability or death, which in turn, is thought to motivate behavior change. Doctors may use fear-based messages when counseling patients about chronic disease self-management or prevention, especially when faced with a patient we believe to be unmotivated or non-adherent. In such situations, using fear as a tool is appealing because it is easy, doesn’t take much time and we know intuitively that fear can be a powerful motivator.
One section of the article discusses the reaction that some study participants had when their doctors used a Fear-Based Medicine approach:
More important, research suggests that appeals to fear can cause harm. For example, in a study of patients with type 2 diabetes, patients recognized when their doctors were using scare tactics to motivate compliance, but many said such threats resulted in increased feelings of anxiety, incompetence and negativity towards their physician.
Whether dealing with osteoporosis or some other sort disease/diagnosis, the advice I like to give my clients is to be your own doctor. I don’t mean it literally, I think you should always consult your physician before making any decisions about your health, just remember that they are human too. And while their opinion is steeped in a rich education, remember that it is still just an opinion. No single physician is going to know everything there is to know about a single topic. Talk to as many professionals as you can, do your own research and due diligence, then make the most educated decision you can for yourself.
Alex Simmons, Owner and Director of Wholebody Systems