When communication is broken, the quality of care is diminished

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by Alison McKnight

I have been in and out of the doctor’s office ever since I was little, and I have had my share of good and bad experiences during this time.

These experiences can shape the expectations of both the physician and the patient, in both negative and positive ways. While the perfect relationship between physician and patient is unattainable, I believe that there are several things that both patients and physicians should keep in mind when diagnosing and treating a condition.

Physicians: Patients are not as knowledgeable as you may think, and sometimes things need to be explained in such a way that they understand. This should be offered to those who want it or seem frustrated from a lack of guidance from past physicians. While it is up to the patient to seek out care, it is up to the physician to explain and provide the care needed. Also, adversarial care has its own downsides. While it may protect you from being sued, if it is allowed to taint your attitude toward the patient, it may break down the lines of communication and the sense of trust.

Patients may decide to withhold important information in fear of chastisement or judgment from their physician. Patients do not like being told they are wrong, and don’t we all. So rather than continually pointing out their flaws all the time, physicians should also encourage them in things that they are doing right in addition to providing insight into things they are doing wrong. In addition this, sometimes the best thing that physicians can give to patients, and even their families, is empathy, as this will be quick to break down walls and promote a sense of honesty in the patient. Not only this, but sometimes it is better to honestly say that you do not have answers and offer a referral than to think that you have the answers and finding out after a long list of tests later, that you do not have the answers that you thought you had. This shows that you are willing to be honest and that you are willing to find someone who might be able to help.

Patients: While physicians know a lot, they do not know everything, and “I don’t know” can sometimes be the only answer that they can give. Medicine is an ever-changing subject, and what people in the medical field do not know now may end up being discovered later. Patience is something that patients need to keep in mind. Yes, you can get your burger in a few minutes, but you will not be able to find an immediate cure to the medical conditions that you have. It will take time to find it, as each person is different and will react differently to medications and results of procedures will be different for different people at different times. A test today can be negative, but three months later you may have very different results. In addition to patience, patients need to realize that communication is key. No one can read minds, so it is also up to you as the patient to talk with your doctor to ensure you are getting the quality care that you desire. It is up to the doctor to provide quality care, however it is also up to the patient to seek the kind of care that they want.

Overall, there is not just one party that we can point fingers at when it comes to the lack of quality care (besides governmental and insurance reimbursement issues, which is another issue that I can write loads about). The patient-physician relationship is one in which both parties must both talk and listen. When one party is discouraged from communicating or refuses to do so, the line of communication is broken, and the quality of care is diminished. That is why both parties need to conscious about how they interact with and talk about each other, both inside and outside the clinic. Only then can we help to improve healthcare, one small step at a time.

Alison McKnight is a nursing student.

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