Medical ethicist Art Caplan is head of the division of medical ethics at NYU's Langone Medical Center, and the cohost of the Everyday Ethics podcast. Caplan joins Boston Public Radio every Wednesday to tackle pressing medical issues. This week Caplan talked about patients recording their doctors for later reference, and parents who may be in denial about their child's weight.
All questions below are paraphrased, and answers edited where noted [...].
Christie Aschwenden wrote in the Washington Post about patients who want to record their conversations with doctors. Should they be allowed to?
I often tell patients just because you're nervous, you're distracted, bring a tape recorder. [...] If you're talking to me about [how] my husband had a stroke, or I’ve got breast cancer, [...] I like recording.
Seems pretty straightforward now that so many people have smartphones. Why would doctors object?
I guess there's a downside if you think the doctor's [wary] if he thinks he's being recorded, [but] it’s hard to process emotionally disturbing information. Do you need to tape everything? No. [...] But if it's serious I think you should use those aids.
Hospitals are increasingly using recording now, too.
There are a lot of hospitals taping every operation, [and] a lot of hospitals keep samples behind of things taken out of your body to show you really did have a tumor, or cancer.
What percentage of doctors would be okay with patients making audio recordings?
Sixty-five percent would say okay [if] you say it's for understanding, just trying to understand. The other thing you [can] do is you bring somebody with you all the time.
Is it ethical to request this of doctors?
To me it is. I think you want to put patient interests first.
A study from your institution, NYU's Langone Medical Center, found that almost 95 percent of parents with overweight children thought their kids looked "just right."
Forty percent of adults are overweight, so when you're overweight you start to think, 'Oh, my kids are fine.' [...] We stigmatize fat, so a fat kid is the object of humor, you can still make jokes about it. Nobody wants that to happen. It also requires lifestyle changes, which we hate.
Did these findings surprise you?
I am not 'shocked' — like Casablanca — that parents think their kids are better than they are [...] If you'd asked my mother she would've said, 'little Arthur is so wonderful.' [...] Parents just upgrade their kids. That’s what parents do. Things like getting recess into school, I think getting the fat fryer out of school and the soda machine, things like teaching people to eat and exercise, [...] that's what we should be [doing].
What other ways can we help parents help their kids?
You’re gonna get further if you have more attention in the media, and regular television programming and stuff like that where we have regular issues like weight. [...] It’s also important for the doctor to go with the parents [...] to say, 'You know, I’ve got some concerns here.' [...] It's tough out there because the culture is also saying 'eat eat eat.'