The communication between doctor and patient is one of the cornerstones of modern medicine, after all, the patient is the only one who really knows about the full extent of the nature of some of their symptoms.
However, this seems to be something some doctors haven’t yet mastered, and we think it is worthwhile to ask yourself…
Are you sure your patients understand you?
When we try to imagine things in the medical practice that might go wrong and worsen a health problem or cause a new one, the most common cases to think about are surgery related infections, malpractice cases or accidents.
Usually, we don’t pay much attention to an endemic issue that can have mayor consequences for the health of the patient, such as ineffective communication.
“Effective doctor-patient communication is a central clinical function in building a therapeutic doctor-patient relationship, which is the heart and art of medicine.”Jennifer Fong Ha, Doctor at the Perths childrens hospital.
Well-informed patients not only show better adherence to their treatment and a better understanding of their prognosis, but they also internalize better the purpose of care, making it easier to come to terms with the possible development of a chronic condition.
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Miscommunication is never the patient’s fault
In any other facet of life, misunderstandings or bad communication are a two-person affair. It is very rare that only one party involved in the issue has to take the brunt of the responsibility, and more often than not, solutions and compromises are reached when both parties acknowledge what they have done wrong and make efforts to fix it.
Doctor-Patient communication is not one of those cases
We have to keep in mind that the perspectives leading to that interaction couldn’t be more different. While the doctors are on their workplace, fully immersed in the routine of their job and in a position of authority and knowledge; patients come to the visit filled with uncertainty, fear and more often than not, pain and discomfort.
Additionally, it is important to keep in mind the disparity in knowledge between the patient and the doctor. Where the former usually has no previous reliable information about their condition, the latter frequently has an almost excessive abundance of it.
It is important to keep in mind that one of the duties of doctors is to shoulder the majority of the communicative effort and that they need to do it in a way that won’t hinder the treatment, the emotional wellbeing of the patient or their faith in the medical system.
How can we improve?
Patient-doctor communication is a complex interpersonal interaction that requires an understanding of each party’s emotional state. Empathy, listening skills and a focus on human connection can go a long way when speaking to a patient.
As shown by a study published in 2018 by the Health Profession Education Journal, one of the main reasons of patient complaints regarding communication with doctors is a perceived poor altitude.
Doctors may be seen by their patients as “insensitive”, “uncaring” or “lacking empathy” when they fail to understand the suffering and daily reality of those in their care.
Physicians often fail to recognise the occupational issues a condition might bring and do not take that into consideration when deciding on a treatment. A good example of this would be topical balms in dermatology, as some people can’t afford to apply a cream frequently to the affected area while at work.
Disrespect is also highlighted in specific situations. For example, when doctors do not introduce themselves to their patients or do not seek their patients’ permission for medical students to be involved in their care.
Lean to speak the same language
Another of the more common communicational problems that arise between doctors and patients is the language and terms used to explain the condition.
It is a well-known fact that a well-informed patient adheres better to the treatment, understands better the purpose of the care, and is less reticent to speak with their doctor. So achieving a quality communication can be pretty beneficial to the development of the condition and its treatment.
Sadly, that’s easier said than done. Complex or less known conditions often come hand by hand with very specific medical terminology. The issue only exacerbates in the early diagnosis phases, when the doctor might not know the exact nature of the condition and the information they can give out to the patient is even less illuminating.
Experts recommend the use of natural language, avoiding medical terminology or concepts that could be commonly confused. It is also important to keep in mind common misconceptions, both to avoid feeding into them and to correct them when possible. Lastly, if possible, educational material specifically catered towards patients, such as pamphlets, magazines, or books should be made available to them.
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Active listening and answering questions
In many occasions, patients and their relatives reported that their doctors failed to answer when asked about the condition at hand, or even worse, they didn’t allow the patient to ask any question at all, interrupting or ignoring them.
This is an evidently bad practice, as not only prevents the patient to get informed about their condition and shuts down their interest for the topic, but the doctor is missing key information about the situation that might be hidden in the questions
Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding while seeking to extract all the possible information out of the conversation.
How can Legit.Health help?
Patient focused medicine put in practice
At Legit.Health, we believe that these hard times in the patient’s life shouldn’t be made harder by the lack of support, the feeling of isolation or misunderstanding. That’s why we strive to improve the communication between our users.
To achieve this purpose, we work closely with patients associations to better understand the user’s needs. By doing so, we improve the usability and the usefulness of the app, and we also connect the patients with a community that shares this life-changing experience. This kind of contact has proven to improve the effectiveness of the treatments and makes the patient feel accompanied and understood.
Additionally, we understand that turning the patient into a more active participant in the treatment will empower them, increasing the feeling of control and self-management. The app also reduces the burden on the mental health of the user and helps them acquire better habits and improve treatment adherence, thanks to the frequent alerts it generates.
Besides, the patient can use the app remotely, whenever and wherever they want, which enables them to self-manage the process, empowers them and makes them feel more in control over their disease.
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The best communication tool
One of the biggest obstacles for any successful treatment is the difficulty of communicating the necessary information to the patient in an efficient and accessible way.
It is no secret that many doctors have issues explaining the nuances of their situation or treatment to their patients, who often don’t understand why some medical decisions are being taken. That sense of confusion and frustration can lead to a loss of confidence in the physician, or even the search for alternative, less effective, unproven therapies.
Legit.Health strives to improve the communication between patient and doctor, making the patient feel understood and in control. Better informed patients make better decisions, take their treatment more seriously, and trust their doctor more.
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