Patients 'know too much' for some doctors

Many doctors resent patients who investigate their condition for themselves; robot dogs may ease loneliness for nursing home residents.

doctor-patient 88 (photo credit: )
doctor-patient 88
(photo credit: )
Many doctors resent well-educated patients who investigate their condition via the Internet rather than depend on the physician, according to University of Haifa Prof. Shmuel Eidelman, who heads a new center for research into the patient-doctor relationship. "Most doctors still function according to the paternalistic model, in which a doctor 'knows everything' and the patient is accepts his words without question. That is also the way many doctors and nurses who are role models for young doctors and nurses act." Eidelman adds that Israeli medical authorities have not yet developed policy to counter this attitude. "There is growing awareness of the need for this in the medical faculties, but we are still far from carrying it out in the field," he says. But "whether the doctor wants it or not, changes are taking place and he [or she] must learn how to cope with them and take advantage of them." Modern medicine, he continued, has succeeded in curing many acute diseases such as pneumonia, trauma and surgical problems, but the increase in life expectancy has resulted in many more people with chronic illnesses that have to be managed. "If the patient does not turn into a full partner in the treatment process, it will be difficult to improve the patient's quality of life and relieve his suffering. Taking decisions jointly, when the patient is in the center, is likely to increase trust in the doctor and the proposed treatment," he concludes. BARK OR BUZZ? Can a robot ease loneliness as well as a furry friend? At least you don't have to feed or walk a robot or take it to the vet, just make sure its batteries are charged. Now Saint Louis University geriatricians are researching what helps nursing home residents feel less lonely - a robotic dog or a real pooch. "Some people believe nursing home residents can get attached to this mechanic animal, and wouldn't it be wonderful not to have the fuss and muss of a living dog," says Prof. William Banks, a geriatrician at Missouri's Jesuit university. Banks and his wife Marian Banks, who is a nurse and adjunct instructor in geriatrics at the university, are comparing how residents interact with both the robotic dog and their real dog, Sparky. Marian Banks is visiting nursing homes around the St. Louis area for animal-assisted therapy sessions with Sparky, a medium-sized, mixed-breed dog that the couple found in their neighborhood four years ago. The same nursing home residents who see Sparky also spend time with the Japanese robotic pet, Aibo. "You could say that Saint Louis University is pioneering the use of mechanical dogs in nursing homes," says Dr. John Morley, director of the division of geriatric medicine at the university's medical school. "This little robotic dog could turn out to be a great companion for elderly people who have difficulty taking a real dog for walks, or who can't have a pet where they live." The nursing-home residents will spend weekly sessions for two months interacting with each "creature." Then they will be ranked on scales that measure their attachment and loneliness. "We let the person interact with the dog, be it mechanical or furry," Banks says. The Aibo mechanical dog is 20 centimeters tall, has a hard-shell body and makes noises and lights up in response to human interactions. It had been manufactured by Sony, which discontinued production in March. Aibo returns to its "cradle" to recharge its battery when it runs out of power. "There's evidence that some people really get attached to this guy. It's like being with a cartoon that responds to what you do. The more you work with him, the more responsive he gets," Banks says. Whether nursing-home residents will respond to Aibo as warmly as they interact with Sparky remains to be seen. Previous research involving Sparky showed that nursing-home residents felt less lonely after spending time alone with the dog than they did when they spent time with Sparky and other people. "It should take about nine months to know whether nursing-ome residents prefer the company of a mechanical dog to the real thing. But even if they like Sparky better, if we find that there's some benefit to spending time with Aibo, it's going to be pretty amazing." FELLOWSHIP EASING THE PAIN A total of NIS 600,000 has been donated by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, headed by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, to help children and teenagers who have suffered anxiety attacks and post-traumatic trauma from terror attacks. The program will be run at the Schneider Children's Medical Center of Israel in Petah Tivka and offer free psychological treatment to some 150 youngsters. Schneider psychologist Dr. Michael Dolgin said the donation removed the threat of closure due to lack of funds. "Israeli youngsters are the future of Israel," said Eckstein. Last year, the charitable organization transferred NIS 30 million to Israeli children and teenagers. "Terror and security are subjects that can greatly slow the normal development of children. We are committed to them in matters connected to their delicate spirits, and to make it possible for them to grow and reach good, safe and optimal development." The Fellowship, founded by Eckstein, has for more than two decades raised moral, financial and political support from pro-Israeli Christians around the world.