I was listening to the WBZ 1030 Boston radio and the medical minute came on. Dr Murray Feingold was doing a piece called “Understanding Your Doctor.” http://boston.cbslocal.com/medical-minutes/#. Usually I like his segments but I was surprised and annoyed by his comments.
In this minute, he discussed a study that examined communication between a doctor and patient. The study design had a doctor giving information, a patient repeating it back and then signing a paper saying he/she understood. On return to the office, the patient was asked to repeat what had been explained. The result was patients often couldn’t remember the information or the doctor explaining it.
This is not news to most advocates. Dr Feingold went on to to say patients should be proactive and take more responsibility for understanding the information. He also said, patients shouldn’t use the excuse doctors seemed too busy and didn’t want to take the time. His final thought was, if your doctor doesn’t want to take the time, you should look for a new doctor.
So it is the patients fault he/she doesn’t get the information correct? Patients should be smarter when they are told they have high blood pressure or diabetes and need to take a new medication that has a myriad of potential side effects? I know, after waiting at least 30 minutes for my doctor, sitting in a sterile medical exam room with no windows, anxious about my results, all I want to do is get the prescription and get out of there. I want to breath and look on the Internet for the details I won’t get from my rushed doctor.
As an advocate who goes to appointments with patients to a variety of primary care doctors and specialists, I have found it is a rare doctor who actually has the skills to truely explain a new medication, diagnosis or procedure in layperson’s terms. It is the rare doctor who is willing to take whatever time is needed to answer questions. It is not that most doctors wouldn’t like to be able to take the time but the system demands quickness and efficiency.
Yes, patients do need to be better advocates but not in the ways Dr Feingold mentions. Patients need to bring a person to their appointments, and insist on getting the answers to their questions. Doctors need to do better follow up to ensure a patient understands. What about a phone call or email a week later from the doctor? Would it hurt to actually find out how the new medication or diagnosis is impacting the patient’s life?
I would not conclude from this study that patients are the only ones who need to be more involved. I would add that doctors need to look at how they talk to their patients. How about a piece called “Understanding Your Patient.”