Communication errors

A chief cause behind the rise of alternative therapies, claims Dr Jack Killen in this issue of Healthcare Middle East, is the lack of ‘touch time’ offered in today’s healthcare system.

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By  Joanne Bladd Published  October 11, 2006

A chief cause behind the rise of alternative therapies, claims Dr Jack Killen in this issue of Healthcare Middle East, is the lack of ‘touch time’ offered in today’s healthcare system.

Patients are seeking an alternative to their allocated 15-minutes in the surgery, he says, and the field of complementary therapies is filling the void.

After attending the first meeting of a patient support group this month, where all the attendees suffered from, or had a relative diagnosed with, rheumatoid arthritis, I believe he has a point.

When the floor was opened for questions, almost every query, even from veteran sufferers, focused on a basic query about their condition or medication; queries that almost certainly should have been answered in one of their earliest consultations with their rheumatologists.

Speaking to one such patient after the event, she confided that she felt “embarrassed to bother her doctor with such a silly question.”

Well-worn platitudes such as ‘actions speak louder than words’ and ‘talk is cheap’ are never truer than when applied to the medical profession. From medical school onwards, the focus is on diagnosing, treating, curing and discharging; a conveyor belt of decisive events that are achieved and repeated throughout the working day.

But clearly this system is creating its own casualties. Doctors don’t talk to their patients enough.

Without meaning to, the ingrained attitude of ‘What’s broken and how can we fix it?’ is creating an environment where patients feel a burden and that their legitimate questions about their care are inappropriate.

Ultimately, good communication should be at the heart of the doctor-patient relationship.

Treating conversation as a hurdle to be overcome before the business of diagnosis takes place flies in the face of good practice – hurried patients are less likely to understand their condition or grasp medication instructions and more likely to return with complications. In the long-term, communicative care is good care. Medicine is a people profession – or at least, it should be.

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