How often do we go to the doctor and feel as though it’s just another business transaction? Maybe they don’t seem so worried about the strange lump on your knee that’s been causing you pain, or maybe when you express a concern, it’s as if they aren’t even listening. When we talk about our doctors, we refer to doctors in terms of their “bedside manner”, or how they act towards us when we are in their care. We recommend a certain physician to our friends because of their calm demeanor, or we warn family to not see a certain practitioner due to his perceived aloofness. It has been found, in fact, that doctors admitted to avoiding emotional discussion with patients “…because it distressed them when they could not handle these issues or they did not have the time to do so adequately” (Ha, Jennifer Fong, and Nancy Longnecker. “Doctor-Patient Communication: A Review.” The Ochsner Journal 10.1 (2010): 38–43. Print.). While this is true, and certainly understandable to an extent, it can significantly affect our perception of our care and, worse yet, if we even decide to get care.
Our perceptions and experiences help to shape our ability to communicate with people effectively. In the role of patient, we expect that our doctors are knowledgeable and empathetic to our concerns. In fact, a study done by the Physicians Foundation found that 79% of people are actually very satisfied with the care they receive from their primary care provider. Of course, doctors and other health workers are only human, and the signals and verbal cues they give us can change how we interact with them. In fact, we know this because it has been found that “Good doctor-patient communication has the potential to help regulate patients’ emotions, facilitate comprehension of medical information, and allow for better identification of patients’ needs, perceptions, and expectations” (Ha, et al., 2010)The big question is, “Where are the shortfalls?” The video below was made by Minnesota Community Measurement to encourage people to assess (and even rate) their doctors in order to promote feedback in an industry we don’t typically think of as needing “critique”. As you watch it, think about the last time you had to see a medical professional. What was the setting? Did he/she exhibit any of the “bad” behaviors? As I watched it, I certainly related to some of the bad experiences!
With all this in mind, it’s important to understand that, overall, doctors will make a clear effort to communicate with patients effectively and treat them with respect. It is ultimately up to us to be sure we are also communicating, despite any “white coat syndrome” we might be feeling. The author of our book, Roxanne Parrott, mentions this as well by saying “Among all the issues that may be in our chart, they [doctors] select the ones we make most relevant…doctors benefit from cues to assist in prompting them to discuss somethings with us as patients” (Parrott, Roxanne, Talking About Health: Why Communication Matters, 64). Therefore, as much as it is the responsibility of our doctors to use the training they’re given in communicating with patients, there is a responsibility for us to be sure we give just as much thought to what we truly are seeking in our healthcare.
Below are links to the paper and study I looked at for this post.