Friday, April 06, 2012

Why I expect my patients to be able to interpret their own reports

Before doing an IVF cycle, I need to order multiple tests for patients , in order to make sure the quality of their eggs, uterus and sperm are fine. When patients come to me with their reports, the first question I ask them is - What's your opinion about your results ? Are they normal or
not ?

Some patients get very confused when I ask them this . After all, this is the question the patient is meant to ask the doctor! They can't figure out why a doctor would ask this question ! Does this mean that I don't know how to interpret the test reports and that I need their advice ?

No, of course not ! All it means is that I expect my patients to take an active intelligent interest in their treatment - and a good way of making sure that they're doing so is by asking them questions every time I see them . This is why quiz them , and not only is this helpful for my patients, it helps me as well. Let me explain.

I tell my patients that they have to do their homework if they want to take treatment at our clinic. This way , patients have a much better understanding of exactly what we're trying to accomplish for them in the IVF lab. This makes it much easier for them to cope with the ups and downs of the IVF cycle, so that no matter what the final outcome , at least they have peace of mind they have received good quality medical care.

This kind of approach is good for patients because it increases their self-confidence levels . They no longer think of themselves as being incompetent or unable to understand what's happening during their IVF cycle. Many doctors love using jargon and complexifying IVF treatment, to put patients in their place. This helps them to project themselves as being high-level experts, who know so much that the patient will never be able to understand their thought processes.

Our approach is exactly the opposite , because I think patients are intelligent – and if they cannot understand what I am doing, it’s because I am not doing a good job with my
explanations ! Being aware of what's happening to them helps me to make sure that no errors are inadvertently made either by me - or by my stuff. An actively engaged , well-informed patient is the best protection against medical errors - and Information Therapy helps to improve patient safety considerably, at no extra cost !

It's also good for me because it helps me to check that I have done a good job in explaining to my patients exactly what's happening to them. Patients are quite intimidated when they're talking to the doctor ; often , even when they don't understand what I tell them , they will continue to nod their head because they scared that if they say they don't understand , they will look like idiots . However, by asking patient's questions , I can make sure that they have a clear grasp on exactly what's happening.

It also helps my nursing staff to provide better care. They have to treat my patients with respect, because they know exactly what’s happening !

It's quite humbling to realize that even though I think I'm a good communicator , a lot of patients still don't understand the basics about IVF, no matter how hard I try. This is a valuable learning experience which keeps me on my toes , so that I keep on trying to develop new tools to be able to improve the signal-to-noise ratio in our doctor-patient communication.

Another fringe benefit is that sometimes patients will use a clever metaphor to illuminate a medical procedure . I can then incorporate this, when I'm explaining something to other patients. Asking my patient's questions allows me to learn from them !

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