In another post I discussed the importance of establishing a connection between doctors and patients before trying to communicate. The goal is to establish effective patient engagement. You might want to read it now, but this post will make sense even if you don’t; you can always read it later. (The current post was previously published as part 2)
Now we’re going to look at some practical aspects of exchanging information with doctors- remember, exchange means give something and receive something in return.
Doctors want to give patients the information they need and most of the time believe they have done so. We are surprised when patients come back and say we didn’t explain their problem and its treatment, or they didn’t understand what we told them about it. I think this happens for 2 reasons.
- We doctors tell patients what we think is important, but it may not be what you the patient or family considers most important.
- After patients hear part of what we say, they get saturated and don’t hear the rest, especially when it is emotionally charged.
That’s why it is so important for patients and families to ask questions; don’t just rely on what the doctors volunteer. What is important to them may not be what is most important to you. And the more specific questions you ask, the more detailed the information you receive will be.
one question you should always ask at each visit
The most important problem that the doctor finds may not be the one you were admitted for or came to the office for. Or if you came with multiple problems, the most important may not be the one that seemed most urgent to you.
and the answer you need to know at each doctor visit
For example, you may go to an emergency facility for an injury that caused a large gash on your leg, one that needs stitches. This is an urgent problem that needs to be treated. But the doctor finds that you have high blood pressure that you didn’t know about.
High blood pressure can lead to heart failure and stroke if left untreated. So the doctor is going to instruct you to see your primary care doctor to have this problem addressed. In terms of your long term health, the high blood pressure is your most important problem today.
Sometimes these unexpected problems can get lost if you and the doctor only communicate about the urgent problem and what happens next with it.
questions, questions, questions
You will get more helpful information from your doctor if your questions are as specific as you can ask; always inquire about how tests and procedures this will affect your treatment and recovery. Here are some examples-
- What did the xray show and what does mean for my problem?
- What was blood test result and will it change my treatment?
- How will this procedure change my condition?
- What needs to happen before we move to the next step?
Write important things down. Questions that you want to ask. Information that the doctors need. Answers to the questions. Refer to it each time you speak with the doctors.
It doesn’t end when you are discharged
When you or a loved one is in the hospital, your main concern is going home. When the time comes to be discharged, it is just as important to ask questions and understand the plan as during the illness. Too many times I have had patients return to my office after a hospital stay unable to give me any information about their illness and care . Important information to know include
- What problems were treated during this admission and how did they change?
- What will we need to do at home to continue the recovery?
- When do we need to see a doctor and which doctor do we see?
- What medications will I need to be on when I go home?
Understanding your doctor– medical jargon may not be the problem
Doctors are being encouraged and taught to use “plain language” when talking to patients, meaning limiting the use of medical jargon. I agree that a string of highly technical terms of any kind makes communication harder. But I’m not sure that simply using plain words solves the problem either. Whatever terms you use to exchange information must be understood by both persons. And that is not always the case.
Here’s an example.
If a doctor says that you or a relative has had a Myocardial infarction , do you know that that means a Heart attack?
But, do you know exactly what heart attack means? Probably not.
So, if the doctor says “heart attack” without adding any additional information, you should ask
- “I understand a heart attack to mean ________. Is this correct?”
- “I do not understand what a heart attack is. Please explain.”
Learning the language
You can master medical terminology . How many new things have you learned in the past 5 years? Each of those had a vocabulary and instructions that you learned and now use regularly. Think of your first computer, smartphone, tablet, digital camera, or even a coffee maker . You make the effort to learn what is important to you .
Make an attempt to learn about your and your family’s medical issues; even if you don’t understand it completely, your doctor will appreciate that you are trying.
In addition to doctors you have nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, physical therapists, social workers who can answer questions. Ask for referrals to community resources.
There are helpful resources on the Internet so anyone with a laptop, tablet, or smartphone has access to medical information anywhere anytime.
Learn the basics of medical terminology here-
Find the meaning of medical words and terms here
Also on this topic, my previous post
exploring the HEART of communication
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