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The NSPA Blog

Doctor-Patient Communication

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Posted on September 27th, 2016 by Teri Dreher, under Take Charge

Whether physicians are treating low income adults or more fluent adults, the problem is the same. Older adults have problems communicating with their doctors and the doctors have problems communicating with them. These adults may be seeing their doctors for rheumatologic or orthopedic conditions. Other adults may need their doctors for heart conditions, intestinal problems or even just coming in for a general check-up.

In today’s medical environment, doctors spend little time with their patients.

They may see patients in 10 or 15 minute blocks. Some doctors never sit and basically have one foot out the door. They send in the nurse with the prescription that needs to be filled and are told when to come back for another appointment.
Yet, various research studies have shown that the quality of doctor-patient communication is critical to health care outcomes. This can be extremely challenging in treating older adult patients. For example, a study published a few years ago in The Journal of Rheumatology with 80 patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis found that a significant number of patients had limited health literacy. Sadly, it was determined that they may not understand simple written instructions or prescription labels.

Many strategies have been explored to address doctor-patient communication issues, and how to improve health literacy. These strategies have been directed toward the patient or physician…or both. One of the suggestions has been to coach patients and help patients think about the questions they want to ask their physician. Patients could go to their visit with the questions written out so they don’t forget to ask their physician what is important to them. Patients who are taught this strategy before their doctor’s visit will ask more questions. They are then more satisfied with their medical care and are not as anxious about their medical condition.

Unfortunately, doctors spend less time checking on compliance with the specific treatment and developing a good treatment plan for them. Unlike younger patients who won’t automatically defer to the physician and ask questions, older adults may ask no questions.

Another problem is that older adults can be embarrassed discussing specific issues with their physician. Yet, these issues can have an impact on their treatment and health outcomes. Patient-physician communication is critical and must be addressed now in the healthcare community.

With over 36 years of clinical experience in Critical Care nursing, home based health care and expertise as a cardiovascular nurse clinician, Teri is well acquainted with the complexities of the modern healthcare system. She has served as a nursing leader, mentor, educator, and consistent patient advocate throughout her career in some of the best hospitals across the country. Her passion to keep the patient at the center of the model of nursing care led her to incorporate NShore Patient Advocates, LLC in 2011, serving clients throughout the northern suburbs of Chicago.

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