As is the point of market research, I look for trends that might provide insight into my work. Recently I have noticed two themes that run though many of the comments on blogs pertaining to physician-patient relations. Here they are:
1) Physicians lack the time to communicate more effectively with patients.
2) Physicians lack the financial incentive to communicate more effectively with patients.
I don’t know about you, but I find comments like these to be instructive and at the same time frightening.
I say instructive simply because such comments are a public confirmation of what clinicians already know and acknowledge amongst themselves – physician-patient communication is a big problem contributing to medical errors and patient safety issues both in the hospital and in the doctor’s office. It also suggests that physicians simply may not understand what to do to improve their communication skill set. I say this in light of recent studies that show how by adopting a few simple communication techniques, physicians can change the dynamic of their conversations with patient without increasing the length of the visit. See previous post
Implicit in both the “timing” and “lack of incentive” comments is the sense that physicians are withholding something from me as the patient – a preventive or treatment procedure, health education or some other information about my health condition. It creates an unsettling feeling that your physician knows more than you do (which I expect) but that your doctor is not telling you because there is not enough time or they are not paid enough. I can see receiving this kind of a response from a professional like an accountant or attorney – but not a physician. Not from someone who holds a certain degree of power over one’s life or death.
In truth, I do not believe that any physician that I have ever had the privilege of knowing would intentionally withhold important information from a patient because of a lack of time or money. But the problem is that so many physicians are saying it these days. Like the boy who cried wolf, people will eventually come to the same unfortunate conclusion that I postulated above. After all, physicians are still the one source for health information that people rely on the most.
Maybe this is just more evidence in favor of improving the way physicians communicate.