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In One Ear and Out the Other: The Current Reality of Doctor-Patient Consultations

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Do you ever find yourself talking at your patients; searching for the right words to explain a diagnosis on a level that the patient will understand, only to come up against an impenetrable wall as their eyes glaze over in confused defeat?

Every day, you take on the role of interpreter, parsing complex medical information into words that you hope your patients can understand. Couple that with the fact that time spent with each patient is often limited, and you have a recipe for patient confusion and misunderstanding, which can lead to higher readmission rates and lowered patient satisfaction.

The hard truth is, patients forget 80-90% of what you tell them in the exam room.[1] This happens for several reasons:

Poor health literacy and medical jargon

The entire healthcare system relies on the incorrect assumption that patients can understand complex written and spoken information.[2] The reality is that most patients have inadequate health literacy.

The Institute of Medicine defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.”2

Low health literacy means that most people are simply not able to understand health information pertinent to their care, as it is currently provided to them by health practitioners. Patients may not be able to interpret the instructions on a prescription label. They may be confused by medical jargon that slips into their doctor’s explanation of a diagnosis. And increasingly patients are being tasked with managing their own complex care at home.

If patients cannot understand the medical advice and instructions that are given to them, then they cannot take necessary actions for their health or make appropriate health decisions. This leaves them at greater risk of adverse health outcomes, including difficulties managing medication regimens, decreased ability to manage chronic conditions and even premature death.[3]

Quantity of information and limited consultation time

The time patients actually spend inside an exam room is often not enough to cover all their concerns, or address concerns in a manner that patients can fully understand. Patients may come in with several issues which cannot all be spoken to in a 10 minute appointment.

Coupled with the doctor’s task of having to explain complex medical information within that narrow window of time, and the result is often a patient who has been overloaded with information that they do not have the knowledge to understand, in too short a period of time to allow for meaningful processing, and without the opportunity to ask questions for clarification.

The ways in which we communicate with patients need to adapt to patient preferences and advances in health care technologies. Talking at patients just isn’t cutting it. Inadequate patient education and poor health literacy are accountable for 3-5% of total healthcare costs, which in Canada equates to approximately $8 billion spent annually, simply because patients don’t understand their healthcare providers’ instructions.3 We need new ways of educating patients about their health, and new tools in the exam room to facilitate more valuable doctor-patient communication.

Recent studies show that digital patient education and communication increases patient satisfaction by 92%.1 Ours is a technologically driven society, which presents unique opportunities to leverage our fondness for smart tech into a revolutionized means of educating patients in the exam room. iMD Health aims to do just that with its cloud-based platform, which turns your smartphone or tablet into a personalized in-office teaching tool. Visit our website to discover how iMD Health can facilitate improved communication with your patients.

 

 

[1] https://www.sonifihealth.com/improving-patient-participation-infographic

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3037129/

[3] http://healthydebate.ca/opinions/a-small-step-towards-a-health-literate-canada

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