Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Teaching patients how to ask good questions

I encourage patients to ask questions. This is important, because it allows them to understand exactly what their problem is ; and what their treatment options are , so they have realistic expectations as to what I can do for them.

However, sometimes patients ask such poor quality questions that it's very hard to provide intelligent answers. This is why doctors sometimes get so frustrated by patients who carry lists of over 100 questions , and expect the doctor to answer all of them. The truth is that the quality of the doctor’s answers depend on the quality of the patient's questions. The problem is that patients are not sophisticated enough to be able to differentiate between good-quality questions and bad quality questions.

How can doctors help patients to ask good quality questions ?

This needs to be a two-step process. Firstly , patients should compile a list of generic questions and then try to answer these questions by doing their homework online. If they do this properly about 80 percent of their questions will already be answered before they go and see their doctor . This way, the doctor can focus on the really important stuff , which applies to their individual problem . Doctors can encourage this by providing information to patients on their own website , so that most of the generic questions have been answered before the actual consultation starts. This will save the doctor a lot of time and also ensure that the answers to the generic questions are retained by the patient, because they've been clearly documented. Many studies have shown that patients forget about 50 percent of what their doctor tells them during the consultation , so that this kind of blended approach helps to ensure retention of information by the patient.

Patients need to learn what questions to ask ; and how to ask them. This is an important skill, which is worth acquiring , and doctors can play an important role in teaching patients the difference between good quality questions and poor quality questions. Broadly, if the question can be answered by doing a google search, it’s not a good idea to ask this question to your Doctor . Good-quality questions are those which relate to your specific problem ; and which require the doctor to tailor the information specifically to your condition .

This approach will create a win-win situation , where patients get satisfactory answers to all their questions ; and doctors are happy because they've been asked intelligent questions , and their time has not been wasted on generic stuff.

Yes, I agree we also need to teach doctors how to provide good quality answers to good quality questions – and this will be the subject of another post!
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  1. Anonymous6:06 PM

    No, not any questions really...Just wanted to wish the doctor whom I LOVE,RESPECT,ADORE, ADMIRE and APPRECIATE a lot 'Happy Valentines day'!!!

  2. Anonymous6:41 PM

    Isn't it polite to wish someone in return? :)

  3. Happy Valentine's Day - but how do I wish someone who is Anonymous ?

    Dr Aniruddha Malpani, MD
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    relationship at http://blog.drmalpani.com


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