If you–as a patient or health professional–believe most physicians do a decent job informing their patients about their health care, you’re fooling yourself. The patient has to take the initiative to learn what’s going on.
Lots of studies show the inadequacy of physician-patient communication. No study that I know shows it’s adequate.
Just this month, for example, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study by Michael Rothberg and colleagues showing that most patients undergoing an angioplasty did not understand the purpose of the procedure. The patients mainly thought the procedure would help prevent a heart attack, but their physicians said the purpose was just to relieve symptoms.
The authors note, dryly, the “communication gap” between physicians and patients.
On September 20 the Boston Globe published an article by Elizabeth Cooney headlined “What Doctors Say Is Often Not What Patients Hear.” Cooney writes:
The doctor says: You have cancer, but we’re not sure whether it’s the kind that will spread. So you’ll have to weigh the risks and benefits of treating it versus waiting to see whether it gets worse. The patient hears: You have cancer. We can take it out.
She notes that patients tend to hear the pros and not the cons of treatment, according to Michael Barry of the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making.
As a patient, you need to tell your doctor what, as you understand it, the proposed tests, procedures, and care will accomplish. You have to ask questions.
This is also the advice contained in the Snapshot of People’s Engagement in Their Health Care. This Center for Advancing Health report lists, as the second of ten essential “engagement behaviors,” an active effort to “communicate with health care professionals.”
What does this effort entail? Communication, says the report, includes preparing questions in advance of medical appointments, keeping a list of medications, and other actions. (Portions of my book that are available for free on this blog site can help you.)
The Center’s Jesse Gruman is also a co-editor of the new Journal of Participatory Medicine , the online, peer-reviewed, open-access publication of the Society for Participatory Medicine. The journal’s stated mission is to transform the culture of medicine from a delivery system driven by clinicians to a shared enterprise, partly by showing how patient participation helps to achieve better health.
Better health isn’t given by the professionals. It’s won, in partnership with the professionals. Take care.