I recently listened to one of my favorite podcasts, “What Should I Read Next.” The premise of the podcast is the host, Anne Bogel, chats with a guest about their reading life, including three books they love, one book they don’t, and what they’re currently reading. In a recent episode, she spoke with a physician who was about to retire. She said that she had been trying to read more books with different genres, as her main focus for the majority of her life and education had been science-based texts. She grew up in the library reading a variety of books and still tries to educate herself by going to lectures and author talks. However, she was looking for more books that focused on the humanities. HUMAN. Which got me thinking about my background in health communication and my passion for health literacy. I know that one of the many reasons that doctors go into the medical field is because they want to help people. They have a strong sense of empathy and the passion to care for others. However, throughout all of the scientific jargon that they retain and medical knowledge that they gain, they may lose the ability to connect one on one with the patient, to really understand what’s going on behind the aches and pains. Plus, office visits with patients are getting shorter. Doctors don’t have the time to really understand what is going on with the patient before they try and get them in and out to move on to the next. They feel rushed, and as a result, the patient can walk out not knowing what happened. According to the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, poor communication can have a detrimental effect on people’s health. For example, patients may not comply with doctors’ orders because of a lack of understanding. It can also hurt medical practices as patients have the option to leave doctors who they feel do not communicate well and therefore, a lack of trust develops.1
So how can we fix this? Can we emerge communication education into the medical curriculum, including required continuing medical education? Can we focus on the human connection that led these doctors to practice medicine in the first place?
Here are a few suggestions for physicians:
- Pay attention to the patient though active listening. Repeat back to them what they’re saying to develop an understanding.
- Use lay-friendly language. Patients come in because they feel sick, something is wrong. Being bogged down with medical jargon isn’t going to help.
- Use the teach-back method. Have the patient repeat back what you told them.
- Use pictures of graphics to explain complex concepts.
- Talk to them about other aspects of their life. It’s not just an illness you’re treating, but a patient with a life outside of the doctor’s office.
- Show that you have the time to listen even if time is short. Patients know when they’re being rushed.
What do you as a patient want from your doctor? What do you feel is lacking in the patient-physician relationship?
Carly Flumer is a young woman who was diagnosed with stage I papillary thyroid cancer at the age of 27. She recently received her Master’s degree from Boston University in Health Communication and received her Bachelor’s from George Mason University in Health Administration and Policy. While being diagnosed with the “C” word at such a young age was a surprise, as it would be to anyone, she found strength, support, and inspiration in sharing her cancer journey on social media. As a result of her health outcome, she looks to advocate for other cancer patients through education, research, and health literacy.