It belongs under the banner that goes, “It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.” Time and again, studies of doctor-patient communication have shown that, although referring to the same encounter, doctors insist that they did cover a particular issue with the patient or told the patient to do something while patients insist they never received that message at all. Of course, it’s likely that both are correct – that is, the doctor did “send” the message, but the patient, for whatever reason, never “received” it.
Many efforts have been made recently to address this obvious disconnect between provider and patient. The most important one has been the “teach back” technique, whereby the doctor asks the patient to teach him or her what the patient has just been told, as if the doctor were a friend or family member that must be instructed.
This is a quite effective technique, however few busy clinicians report that they are able to spare the time to employ teach-back with any consistency.
In recognition of this problem, Merck along with the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation, the Canyon Ranch Institute and RIASWorks have produced an educational program for both healthcare providers and patients to improve their communication skills. Focusing on the broad health problem of heart disease, the TimeToTalkCARDO web site includes a number of resources, including free guides, worksheets, posters and brochures with tips for provider and patient. The key feature of the site, however, is the series of video clips demonstrating communication techniques for particular issues, such as “Supporting and building rapport” (for the provider) or “Educating your healthcare professional about you” (for the patient).
In addition to choosing the type of communication technique the user feels most in need of help with, there are also different sexes, ethnic groups, and provider categories (e.g., primary care physician, cardiologist, nurse, or NP/PA) in the videos, making them inclusive of the population of viewers.
So, by addressing the communication gap from both ends of the doctor-patient dyad instead of just the provider end, it is hopeful that the gap might at last be bridged – or at least narrowed?