When Patients and Their Families Feel Like Hostages to Health Care.

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Mayo Clinic proceedings, ISSN: 1942-5546, Vol: 92, Issue: 9, Page: 1373-1381

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Berry, Leonard L; Danaher, Tracey S; Beckham, Dan; Awdish, Rana L A; Mate, Kedar S
Elsevier BV
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Patients are often reluctant to assert their interests in the presence of clinicians, whom they see as experts. The higher the stakes of a health decision, the more entrenched the socially sanctioned roles of patient and clinician can become. As a result, many patients are susceptible to "hostage bargaining syndrome" (HBS), whereby they behave as if negotiating for their health from a position of fear and confusion. It may manifest as understating a concern, asking for less than what is desired or needed, or even remaining silent against one's better judgment. When HBS persists and escalates, a patient may succumb to learned helplessness, making his or her authentic involvement in shared decision making almost impossible. To subvert HBS and prevent learned helplessness, clinicians must aim to be sensitive to the power imbalance inherent in the clinician-patient relationship. They should then actively and mindfully pursue shared decision making by helping patients trust that it is safe to communicate their concerns and priorities, ask questions about the available clinical options, and contribute knowledge of self to clinical decisions about their care. Hostage bargaining syndrome is an insidious psychosocial dynamic that can compromise quality of care, but clinicians often have the power to arrest it and reverse it by appreciating, paradoxically, how patients' perceptions of their power as experts play a central role in the care they provide.