Doctor, Please Explain…

Recently I have been thinking about communication.

In my short career so far, I have realized that there is often a huge chasm between what we (physicians) think we have explained and what patients understand.

As a general rule, I try to take the time needed to talk to patients and answer all their questions. Sometimes I think I do an adequate job. And patients have voice appreciation for it before. I have been thanked for actually taking the time to explain my thought process and my plan. But I’m sure there are other times when I my question-answering leaves something to be desired.

Unfortunately, time is a luxury. Sometimes things get rushed. Sometimes there are patients who need more attention because of their condition so we spend a shorter amount of time talking to the more stable patient.

I’ve also had nurses tell me that they care for patients who ask them all sorts of questions about their medical care but when the physician comes in to see them, the patient either forgets or chooses not to pose the question to the physician. Sometimes they get overwhelmed. Sometimes they are intimidated. Nurses tell me that sometimes after the doctor leaves the room, the patients will ask their questions to the nurses.
Most of my work caring for patients involves residents/interns and medical students. I try to emphasize the need for clear and accurate information each time I work with a new group. Nevertheless, miscommunication happens. We aren’t perfect. We operate in a flawed and broken system that expects perfection and efficiency from medical providers.

If you’re reading this post, I’d love to hear about your experience as a patient. Are there still things that confuse you about that experience? Are there things that you wish your doctor had taken more time to explain? Are their topics or diseases that they sped through while talking to you? Do you wish they’d have slowed down and spoken in plain English? I want to know what the confusing topics are! I want to know where we, as a profession, fall short!