Friday, October 12, 2007

Unsolicited Healthcare Advice for Chronic Illnesses Offered by One-Third of All People

It turns out that unsolicited advice about chronic illness like diabetes is seen as a taboo topic by many people, akin to politics and religion according to a new survey of more than 1,000 American adults. But the number and percentage who feel it is taboo is not as many (or as high) as one might expect. The survey was released by Evercare, a provider of health plans for people who have chronic illnesses, are older, or have disabilities which is owned by healthcare giant United Healthcare.

According to the survey, which was released yesterday, 82% of respondents said they knew someone with a chronic illness, but were more likely to discourage friends or loved ones from buying the wrong house (65%), loan them a large amount of money (56%), advise them against taking a job they didn't think was right for the person (48%), or tell them their spouse was unfaithful (41%). Just over one-third (34%) were likely to suggest ways for this person to better manage their care, which is comparable to the number who said they'd debate politics (37%) or religion (33%) with a loved one or friend.

But while Health Day News suggested that was a low number, I would dare say that the percentage people who feel entitled to offer unsolicited advice was surprisingly high. After all, why is it that one-third of people feel comfortable to offer advice on a subject they are usually unqualified to talk about? I don't usually offer my advice on child-rearing, nor would parents feel a person without children is entitled to offer them advice on that subject. Why, then, do so many people who do not even know there are two forms of diabetes feel entitled to offer advice on the subject?

I am hardly alone in my assessment that far too many people who do not know what they're talking about feel entitled to offer unsolicited advice to people with diabetes. Manny Hernandez' social networking site for diabetes "TuDiabetes" featured a thread related to this topic, and its a continued source of frustration for those of us with diabetes. Ignorance about diabetes seems to be widespread among advice-givers, which was validated by Medtronic Minimed's research published earlier this year. Its therefore no wonder most respondents to the Evercare survey actually said they would prefer to receive advice about managing a chronic illness from a health care professional (67%), followed by a spouse (10%) or parent (7%). Interestingly, men were twice as likely as women (14% vs. 7%) to have their spouse give them such advice, and women seem to have an easier time offering health advice to their children (24%) than men (16%) such as their husbands do.

The moral to all of these findings is as follows: First, if you're going to offer unsolicited advice to people with diabetes, make sure you know what the heck you're talking about. Comments like "Should you be eating that?" are likely to be ignored for any number of different reasons, and are usually considered bad manners if nothing else. Also talk to the person, and remember, you having a label "the food police" is not a term of endearment!


Jenny said...

I'm astonished they didn't ask about diet advice.

My own personal survey shows that 99.3% of people feel not only comfortable, but downright entitled to offer diet advice to anyone at any time.

Chrissie in Belgium said...

And Scott it is also our job to educate them. Explain WHY their lovely advice is hogwash! Honestly I THINK they think they are helping. We have to explain that their advice is often completely WRONG and that they are NOT helping! All the info out there is SO simplistic!

Scott S said...

Hi Jenny and Chrissie,

First, I'm not certain whether diet advice was asked (the full survey results were not released ... yet), but I suspect that the underlying belief among people is that diet advice is what most people believe they CAN provide advice on. Ironically, many of the advice-givers have such despicable eating habits yet they never question how someone might find their advice completely unbelievable based on their poor example!

I realize many people think they're helping, which is part of the problem. While I TRY to educate people, I must admit that I grow very tired of repeating the same thing over and over. Some people listen but most don't and proceed to talk without letting us get a word in edgewise! At that point, I cannot continue, and usually just walk away. Much depends on how much energy and patience I happen to have at that moment in time.

Anyway, thank you both for your feedback!

Wingman said...

What if they also asked the amount of people who give advice that is great for Type 2s to people with Type 1! Or the people who think Type 1 - can be cured with herbal medicine!

Anonymous said...

How about this? Next time someone decides to give me unsolicited advice on how to take care of my Type 1 diabetes, I'm going to look them square in the eye and tell them that I'll take their 'expert' advice if they will take my 'expert advice' regarding the rhinoplasty, liposuction and wardrobe makeover that they, in my expert opinion, so desperately need.

It's either that or I wear a T-shirt at all times explaining the difference between my kind of diabetes and their grandmother's type of diabetes, with a magnifying glass attached to my wrist so the idiots can take a look at the fine print on my back.

Anne Findlay said...

The easiest way for those who truly care about a friend or loved one with a chronic disease to help is this: ask. "Is there any way I can support you with your diabetes?" To others who don't know me well enough to ask that question, silence is golden.

Penny Ratzlaff said...


It seems that whenever someone says my child shouldn't be eating something or that he must have "bad" diabetes (as if there is a good kind) and I try to educate them, I see their eyes glaze over.

Most people don't listen because they think they already know it all or , more than likely, they don't care to know.