is your doctor taking the time to talk to you

In our previous post, our blog discussed a study highlighting the altogether grave threat posed by physician misdiagnoses, which accounted for roughly 35 percent of all medical malpractice claims filed in the U.S. over the last 25 years and roughly $39 billion in payouts to injured patients and their families.

This study, performed by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, also found that the majority of diagnostic errors occurred in outpatient facilities such as clinics or doctors’ offices.

Why then are diagnostic errors so much more likely to occur in these familiar environments?

According to experts, the answer may have something to do with communication or, perhaps more accurately, the lack thereof.

These experts indicate that many physicians are simply neglecting to take the time to have constructive dialogues with patients. This means physicians are not learning everything they can about patients’ symptoms, and they are failing to explain complex information in a thorough manner. This is significant, the experts argue, because previous studies have repeatedly shown that a large percentage of patients either forget important medical information or remember it incorrectly.

Interestingly, different solutions have been implemented to address this pressing problem, including:

  • Certain medical schools and hospitals are now offering programs designed to improve the bedside manner of physicians, including putting them through role-playing sessions with patients/actors that teach them how to listen empathetically, interact appropriately and communicate effectively.
  • A program called Health Quality Partners run by medical professionals here in Pennsylvania involves sending nurses to the homes of Medicare patients afflicted with chronic diseases or who were recently hospitalized. The nurses answer questions and help patients understand the physicians’ orders.
  • Physicians in some health care systems are using a very simple technique referred to as the show-me method, which involves asking patients to repeat all that they’ve been told by the physicians. If they are unable to do so, then the physicians are alerted that they need to explain things in simpler terms, provide greater clarification or write the information down.

It’s truly unbelievable to think that some physicians are simply neglecting to set aside a few extra minutes to talk with their patients and answer their questions. This simple step could save lives and spare families from unnecessary grief.

Source: AARP, “Just listen: Teaching Doctors to pay attention,” Candy Sagon, April 29, 2013

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