Our updated hospital Ratings show that doctors, nurses, and other clinicians often do a good job of communicating in general with patients, but struggle when it comes to information about drugs and discharge planning. Other research suggests those problems plague patients when seeing health-care providers for routine care, too. Partly in response to problems like those, the Institute of Medicine has convened a panel of experts, including Jim Guest, CEO of Consumer Reports, to come up with ways to improve doctor-patient communication. Here are some of their suggestions.
The panel, brought together by the IOM’s Roundtable on Value and Science-Driven Health Care, identified seven principles of good communication between health-care providers and patients:
1. Mutual respect
2. Harmonized goals
3. A supportive environment
4. Appropriate decision partners
4. The right information
6. Transparency and full disclosure
7. Continuous learning
Take the first principle, mutual respect. The key word is mutual. We know that most patients respect the knowledge and skills of their health-care providers. But respect must go both ways. In the office, that means making sure that your doctor or nurse engages you in making decisions, and understands the insights and preferences that help you make decisions. If you feel that your provider isn’t doing that, have a heart-to-heart with him or her. Or look for a health-care provider who does.
The second principle, harmonized goals, builds on mutual respect. It means that you and your provider have discussed the care options available and the associated risks, benefits, and costs, and that you have arrived at a plan that really reflects your preferences and priorities.
Of course, understanding your best medical options depends on getting complete and accurate information from your health-care provider, being referred when necessary to the right specialist, and seamless communication all-around. That’s where some of the other principles come in. The more that people and their health-care providers work together on these principles, the better care everyone will get.
For more details, see our advice on establishing a good doctor-patient relationship as well as the IOM report Patient-Clinician Commuication: Basic Principles and Expectations. It’s a thought-provoking read.
—John Santa M.D.