Healthcare Professional- Patient Communications

Nancy Sanker Health Guide
  • Or…Can you hear me? I can’t hear you!

    As you may know, we are in the middle of a move. Boxes line each room and we’re marching through dinners of unrelated food items to clean out the pantry. In the midst of mayhem I am contemplating whether or not to continue seeing our current healthcare team. Moving from one town to its next door neighbor gives us this luxurious choice.

    It hasn’t always been this way. We’ve moved away from excellent practices several times and it was excruciating. I teased the staff at one office in California when I said I wanted to microsize them and tuck them in the moving van. And then…there have been some offices we’ve left when our communication styles didn’t mesh and moving was not a factor. How can you even begin to connect with a physician who is preoccupied with his laptop or who makes you wait well over an hour each visit and then plays “patient catch-up” with your long-awaited appointment time?
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    Whether you are changing addresses or simply reassessing the dynamics of your current medical team, it’s safe to say your satisfaction level primarily revolves around a current hot topic – communication. If your healthcare professional does not seem to listen, how can he/she arrive at a correct diagnosis? Assuming the diagnosis is correct, how it’s explained to you and how the treatment and delivery methods are described is pivotal to your compliance.

    Even though 65% of medical schools now teach communication skills, these valuable tenants of quality care are more threatened than ever before. Shortened visits in capitated health plans, cultural and linguistic chasms plus technology that threatens a physician’s status as first-line of defense must serve as potent motivators for improved healthcare communication skills. Healthcare professionals must acknowledge that more than their words are vital – their silences, tones, facial expressions and overall body language can propel a patient toward compliance.

    But wait – communication must involve at least two parties and as Dr. Phil says, “Every pancake has two sides.” Healthcare professionals are frequently frustrated with patients and their families as the discussion at an educational support group meeting several years ago illustrated. A panel of asthma and allergy specialists was invited to share their feelings at a meeting in Ft. Collins, Colorado, titled, “What Doctors Wish Their Patients Knew.”

    Aha! Ideas on how to make an appointment more meaningful for all involved tumbled forth. Valuable pointers for patients were shared including arriving on time, being prepared with questions and notepads for jotting down the answers, leaving siblings at home (if possible), taking medications as prescribed, using proper peak flow meter/ inhaler techniques and communicating the asthma/allergy plan with other family members and school/day care staff responsible for care.

    The professionals involved felt the open dialogue with patients and their families was memorable and the patients returned home enlightened. Time has passed since that meeting and much has changed since then including the fact that more individuals have access to computers, just like you.

  • Now it’s your turn!
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    If you are a patient or parent of a child with asthma, tell us:


    • What do you wish you had known when you or your child was first diagnosed?


    • What would you like your present healthcare professionals to know now?


    If you are a healthcare professional:

    • How can a patient or parent be prepared for a productive first appointment?


    • What is your “Number 1 frustration” during follow-up appointments?




    Take a step forward to calm the healthcare-patient communication chaos by writing. It’s easy and the results, which we will share right here, will benefit everyone. I’m hoping you will do your share by helping to orchestrate quality patient care through enhanced communications.

    Meantime…back to packing. Hmmmm… black bean and hearts of palm salad for dinner?
Published On: August 18, 2006