Tell the Doctor

photo by Carol Duff

Health Editor’s Note:  While this short article is told from the perspective of a doctor who encourages talking with the patient to find out the most accurate information to use in diagnosing and treating you, there is the flip side of the coin that is just as important. 

It is your responsibility to communicate with your health care provider.  Communication may have to ultimately be accomplished with sending messages to the doctor through whoever answers the phone, office staff, registered nurse, nurse practitioner, etc., but what you have to say and the information that you share is paramount to the result of the health care you will receive. Never feel subservient to the doctor.

Ask for the doctor to call you back if you do not feel satisfied with the answers you are getting through the office person you are speaking with….you are the reason for the doctor’s existence.  You are the VIP when you are getting that exam, etc. 

Ask questions and keep asking until you understand the answers to your questions.  It is not your responsibility to understand medical terminology.  It is the health care provider’s responsibility to make sure you understand what is happening to you. I am not kidding about this.  Write questions down, take notes, as you are often in a situation where you may not be at your best (hurting, nauseated, anxious, stressed, etc.) and your concentration/comprehension levels may not be optimal.  This is not a social call.  You are not the entertainment. You are at the doctor’s office to get yourself back onto the road to normalcy. 

Taking a family member or a friend is also a good idea because what one of you misses in a conversation, the other will pick up.  Also, make sure you have handouts, written instructions if the treatment lends itself to that mode. I would also leave you with the fact that doctor’s can and will make mistakes.  You would like to help that to not happen in your case.  Just make sure you understand and do not leave until you do……Carol

How to Fight Misinformation in Healthcare

‘Fake news’ about your patient can be remedied with one step: talking

by Suneel Dhand, MD

“Fake news” is a term that’s become notorious over the last couple of years — for notorious reasons, perhaps. But there’s actually another serious area where there is inadvertently an awful lot of “fake news” on a daily basis. And that is, well you guessed it: in healthcare throughout our nation’s hospitals and offices.

Let me explain, and I suspect anyone who works in healthcare will be familiar with the scenario. A physician or nurse assumes care of a new patient and a huge amount of information is thrown their way. They have “coronary artery disease,” they “drink five beers a day,” they “take a steroid pill every day,” they “will be discharged to rehabilitation.” All sounds like very serious stuff. However, in years of being a practicing physician, there is one rule I always follow: Take everything with a grain of salt until you actually sit down and talk directly with the patient.

I have written a lot about the problems that electronic medical records have caused at the frontlines of healthcare. I am not going to make this another rant on the topic. However, I will say this: information technology is currently the number one reason for the propagation of fake news in healthcare. And this has serious implications for patients — who must always be sure to double check that their physician is aware of their accurate history. God knows what is on the computer and what old information is still being banded around about you. Physicians, for our part, are sadly fast losing the art of simply talking with our patients. No matter where technology takes us, there’s no substitute for this.

I used to be heavily involved in educating residents and medical students before I had to cut back over the last couple of years owing to my other commitments. I recall several situations that I would hazard a bet take place every day in our teaching hospitals. A classic example went something like this (and I usually just let the situation unfold before I respond in a tongue-in-cheek way): I am the teaching attending and we are huddled around a computer. After a result comes back, the residents start debating what antibiotic to put the patient on. They had information that the patient was “allergic to a couple of major antibiotics.” This had come from the computer and from their printed piece of paper.

Here’s a group of young intelligent doctors and medical students. They brainstorm and it’s clear our choices are limited. I listened to them and finally said, “You know what, we are about 30 feet away from the patient’s room. Have any of you actually gone in to talk to the patient about their allergy history and confirm what really happened?” Sure enough, nobody has! That was perhaps all too much work and common sense (I say in a semi-derogatory but mentor-like way). When I send one of them in to go and confirm with a face-to-face conversation — turns out that none of the antibiotics were true allergies, and we were fine starting one of them. I’ve seen this happen more times than I can even remember. There are countless other examples I can also recall: whether the patient is or isn’t a drinker, whether they cut their pill in half, whether they did or didn’t have a flu vaccination. So much fake news all around!

It is my firm belief that misinformation in healthcare, especially in the age of electronic medical records, is dangerous. The only sure-fire way to combat all this — whether you are a doctor, nurse, or even a patient — is to communicate directly the good old-fashioned way and not believe what you hear until you diligently confirm it yourself.

Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author. He is the founder of DocSpeak Communications and co-founder of DocsDox, and blogs at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand.

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  1. What a great article, by both Nurse Duff, and Dr.Dhand…as both a cardiac and cancer patient, there had been misinformation–at the V.A, no less (not just for treatment, but ending up with increased costs!)

    it helps to know about communication as being key (In all relationships, not just doctor/patient). This should be on a lot of hospital and medical office’s bulletin boards.

    Thank you (very much)

  2. The patient-doctor relationship is important, I agree with that. I guess all that younger patients can do is explain the symptoms, but I doubt they can articulate the exact diagnosis, much less know what immediate steps they can take to gain relief.

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