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Putting the Human Back in Healthcare

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?


Sources:

  1. https://www.ahrq.gov/cahps/quality-improvement/improvement-guide/6-strategies-for-improving/communication/strategy6gtraining.html

How to Communicate With Your Medical Team

During a recent town meeting for lung cancer patients, families and caregivers, Katie Brown, Certified Patient Navigator and Vice President of Support and Survivorship Programs at LUNGevity, explains how LUNGevity can help patients gain the knowledge and support they need to participate in meaningful and productive discussions with their medical team. An informed patient is a confident and empowered patient. Knowledge leads to confidence and shared decision-making.

LUNGevity and other patient advocacy organizations offer patients information about their disease, clinical trials and treatment options. Patients will have the opportunity to connect with other patients that have the same disease condition and share stories about their diagnosis, treatment and how they cope with their illness. They can then take comments and questions back to their medical team for discussion.

In the video below, Dr. Malcolm DeCamp, Chief of Thoracic Surgery, Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University explains that it is crucial that patients communicate physical and emotional changes to their medical team. The patient plays a major role in their plan of care and they need to provide constant updates and information to their team so that they can get the best care they deserve.

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