Misunderstandings Between Doctors & Patients

When doctors and patients talk to one another, it’s through a phone call about 25% of the time, according to a study published in The Journal of General Internal Medicine. While this is a useful way to interact, misunderstandings can lead to problems ranging from inconvenience and anxiety for patients to compromising patient safety.

Telecommunications: When Lines Get Crossed for Doctors and Patients, from yesterday’s New York Times, provides examples of medical mistakes and why they occurred.

Perhaps the most important responsibility for a patient is to speak up. It’s all too easy to minimize symptoms or be intimidated by a doctor who sounds rushed or annoyed. Assertiveness is hard to muster when you don’t feel well, but try to be extra-focused while you’re on the phone. This is your chance to get your questions answered, so make it count.

Some ideas for how you can help your doc avoid mistakes include:

  • Make a list of your symptoms before you call and be sure that you cover every item on the list.
  • If you’re prescribed a medication, ask if it has any interactions with your other meds. Have a list of your meds handy in case you need to tell him or her exactly what you’re taking.
  • Before you place the original call, make sure that when the call is returned you can go somewhere where no one can overhear the conversation. (I know, easier said than done.)
  • If questions come to mind while you’re waiting for a call or between the time you get a test done and when the results come, write them down somewhere that you can find them later.
  • If you’re given test results and don’t already have yoru questions answered, ask about what was tested, what the tests were looking for and what the results mean for you.
  • If the doc names an illness or disease that you’re unfamiliar with, ask for details about it and how the name is spelled. You can always get more information online as long as you’re confident in the source.
  • Ask if there is any further action you need to take.

OK, so these are common sense. The keys really are to be prepared for the call if possible and speak up for yourself until you feel like your questions have been answered.

The Headache & Migraine News blog had a similar post yesterday, which talks about checking prescriptions. (Thanks for the info, James!)