I bring paper and a pen with me when I go to doctor’s appointment. I know I’ll get instructions confused (which med first?), and maybe forget the rationale for a decision that I need to explain to my wife, although I “got it” at the time of the discussion. How many times have you been called to explain something for a family member or friend? Have you ever been confused yourself?
An article in the current issue of Medical Economics takes on this challenge with some pratical, easy to adapt advice. The article makes a particular point that patients will feign understanding what you are saying to them.
The forms all too many practices use are the first place to make changes. The forms are often set in small type (try reading it yourself – or someone with difficulty seeing, or nervous, distracted and so on). Up the point size , leave room – real room – for the patient to fill in any blanks. Look at the language used – rewrite some of the clinical terms in “plain English”, so patients can do a better job of answering truthfully. Family practitioner Dr. Terry Ruhl, associate director of the Altoona (PA) Family Physicians Residency Program, offers an extensive collection of clarifying analogies on their website. Finally, leave out clipboards (go buy nice looking ones, and never use drug rep giveaways). Make up a form for patients to use to write down their questions, and to write down answers and other instructions. (send me an email and I’ll send you a sample back to use or change for your needs) You might also develp a “patient instruction” form for your use as well when giving instructions, rather than pulling out the prescription pad.
Communcation – physician to patient, patient to physician, nurses and physicians – has emerged as one of the top weak links in how we work in caring for patients. These tools can only help both people in the exam room.. Let us know your experiences so we can share them.