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Meeting the Patient’s Communication Needs

Wednesday, April 29, 2015
Co-author: Randi Redmond Oster, author of Questioning Protocol

When Randi Oster’s 15 year-old son Gary was first admitted to the hospital for Crohn’s disease, he was in massive pain. Unfortunately, his regular GI doctor is away at a conference.  The family waited for hours until a physician arrived and did a quick exam and said, “He’s an excellent candidate for surgery.”

The family was stunned. Surgery? No one had ever mentioned this before. To them, this came out of left field. And based on Randi’s past experience with her father, she felt any surgery was fraught with risk and was something to be avoided whenever possible.

Randi had nothing but questions. And their family was not comfortable deferring to the first recommendation. She realized launching into a barrage of questions might put the doctor on the defense.

She decided she first needed to help the new doctor understand their family. She explained that her son is analytical and literal; and that he likes and needs a lot of details and facts.

Randi also explained that while the protocol might be surgery, their family’s process was to gather options, ask a lot of questions, understand the risks and benefits so they can share in the decision and be involved and informed every step of the way.

By being clear up front about the level of information they needed, the physician and medical team were able to meet expectations and provide more detailed and in-depth communication to help find the best option for Gary.

Meeting communication needs: one size does not fit all

Most patients and families won’t proactively jump in to explain what they need or want when it comes their communication style and preferences. Ask patients who they are and what to they want. For some, a lot of details are overwhelming, for others these details help them think through the nuances. And ask how involved would they like to be in decisions?

Research shows that when patients share in the decision making process most (74%) have more realistic expectations.[1] That can make for better decisions and a better patient and family experience.

[1] Source: Impact of Decision Aids The Cochrane Library 2014, Issue 1

Randi Redmond Oster is the award winning author of Questioning Protocol, which helps patients navigate the healthcare system and medical professionals understand the patient perspective. She is also the co-founder and president of Help Me Health, which transforms how healthcare thinks about and delivers patient experience to achieve better outcomes. @helpme_health

Tags: communication, shared decision making
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