Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Are patients stupid ?

Sometimes doctors get very upset by how poorly informed their patients are . They find it very frustrating when patients know so little about their medical problems ; and they feel that the time they have to spend on explaining the basics of human anatomy and physiology to their patients could be better used making the right diagnosis or doing treatment procedures. They believe that every patient should have enough background knowledge about their own body – and cannot understand why patients are not willing to take the time and trouble to learn more about their most precious possession – their own body. The general perception amongst doctors is that patients are stupid and are not capable of understanding the basics; or that they are lazy and are not interested in finding out more. I think both of these are flawed perceptions.

The truth is that patients do want to know more about their illness and its treatment, but some of these topics and concepts can be fairly complicated , and it takes time for them to understand what's happening.

The right approach should be that it's not patients who are stupid or lazy but it's much more likely that it's doctors who are lazy , because they will not take the time and trouble to explain to patients in simple terms which they can understand. After all communication is always a two-way street and if the patient cannot understand what the doctor is saying, this means the doctor is not doing a good job in explaining to the patient.

This doesn’t mean that doctors are  stupid – it just means that they are shortsighted and are not willing to look at things from the patient's perspective . They tend to jump to conclusions which are incorrect , and blame the patient for something which is actually a shortcoming on their part.  Some doctors take perverse pleasure in making simple concepts complicated, because they want to show to their patient how erudite they are. Some doctors deliberately use this as a tool to put patients in their place, to awe their patients with the polysyllabic jargon which they throw at them .

I always tell patients that if you can't understand something which your  doctor tells you, it’s not your fault – it’s your doctors, because this just means he does not know how to simplify and communicate !
Good doctors will take the time and trouble to teach their patients and ensure they understand – and the best doctors will create educational materials which patients will be able to comprehend , no matter how limited their current state of knowledge maybe.

After all, this is education is all about – taking the student from where they are presently, to where you want them to be. The good news is there are now lots of online resources which help patients to make sense of what's happening to them , so they no longer have to depend upon their doctor to teach them. Smart doctors are now “ prescribing “ this information to their patients, to create win-win situations, so that patients have realistic expectations of their treatment.

1 comment:

  1. I agree patients are not stupid or lazy, they just do not know the dangers of health illiteracy and hence do not care about knowing stuff about their treatment, or their body. They believe every doctor works on their best interest, and when they provide a fee for the service they get, they will be well cared for ! If they start understanding that being illiterate about their health condition can kill (their time, money and even them !) and health literacy could heal, every patient will be ready to invest their time and effort in knowing the intricacies of their treatment.

    Hence it becomes important to first educate the patients the dangers of not knowing about their medical problem and treatment details. If this is achieved then every patient will start looking for a doctor or a clinic which will teach them about their medical problem. If doctors start understanding that health literate patients could make their life much easier (protection from unwanted lawsuits and from unreasonable wrath of patients !) they will start to educate their patients too !


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