Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Book Review: 'What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear' by Danielle Ofri

In "What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear," Dr. Danielle Ofri cogently analyzes the doctor-patient relationship. Although physical exams and diagnostic tests are important, there is no substitute for taking a complete history and engaging in fruitful dialogue. Of course, time is short in a busy office, but doctors should do their best to address their patients' concerns without interrupting or hurrying them. Why? When doctors dominate the conversation, they may miss vital information. Most patients prefer to be partners in their care, not just cogs in a medical machine.

The author explains the basics of excellent communication: Doctors should do their best to maintain eye contact; ask open-ended questions; summarize key points; and encourage patients to speak out about "what motivates and what challenges them." Patients should consider bringing a short list of questions with them and, as an aid to memory, jotting down the answers. Although it seems counterintuitive, Ofri points out that malpractice suits are reduced and settled out of court more frequently when hospital administrators admit to medical errors made by their staff. Another important factor is bias. Is the doctor dismissive of "difficult" patients—especially those who are demanding or have trouble adhering to a particular regimen?

Ofri offers a host of examples, including some from her own experiences, to illustrate her points. She knows from her own practice how demanding a doctor's job can be. No one expects all medical professionals to be perennially cheerful, patient, and deferential. However, Dr. Ofri would like medical schools to teach communication skills to all of their students. If doctors were to behave less peremptorily and speak more clearly and compassionately to the men, women, and children who rely on them, it would be a win-win for everyone. "What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear" is a thought-provoking primer on how to make doctor-patient interactions more productive.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.

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