How Insights from Patients Can Shape Medical Practice and Communication

Dave Taylor is director of research at Inspire.
Dave Taylor is director of research at Inspire.

How often in an interaction do you wonder what the other person is thinking? Particularly in hierarchical relationships, one party often doesn't disclose the full spectrum of their thoughts or feelings in the moment. This holds true in the physician-patient relationship.

Oftentimes, whether it is due to how the physician is interacting with the patient in that instance or external factors, such as the length of time with the doctor or the physician's level of distractedness, patients are not able to fully achieve what they want during the course of an appointment. To remedy this gap in the information exchange, we at Inspire asked patients, “What do you wish your doctor knew?”

As patient advocacy groups and pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturers alike are pushing for a more collaborative approach to medical decisions, with particular attention paid to increased access to information, some elements of the medical model remain unchanged. Many patients find it difficult to ask questions of, or present information they found independently to, their physician.

See also: Hacking Healthcare: Will It Help the Patient?

As patients are increasingly looking for health information in other places and bringing it to their appointments, they are hoping to shift the power dynamic toward a more collaborative approach with their physician. Our patient survey shows that 92% of more than 10,000 respondents go to doctor's appointments prepared with notes or questions to help guide the discussion. While making sure patients have the most accurate information available is the first step, it's also essential that they know how to present this to their physician in a way that enhances, rather than stifles, the conversation.

Our patient survey shows that 92% of more than 10,000 respondents go to doctor's appointments prepared with notes or questions to help guide the discussion. Photo credit: Alex Proimos/Creative Commons 

When patients reflected on what they want their doctors to know, the answers varied, ranging from health-related topics to more personal factors. While all of the items patients cited helped offer a more complete picture as it relates to their condition and the care they receive, there were a few common sentiments shared by many patients, including:

Interactions with patients should be as supportive as they are informative: While patients look for an authoritative support system in their physician, they also emphasized the importance of bedside manner. Beginning in medical school, creating an “encouragement send-off” would be appreciated by patients and foster more supportive relationships.

Information exchange and reflection is important for the physician and the patient: In the technology age, it's easier for patients to self-advocate and self-inform about their conditions. To ease into this shift in the physician-patient power dynamic, both parties should avoid blindsiding the other with extensive research but instead should allow for adequate time to review and react to the presented information.

Doctors must learn to balance quality of care with time restrictions: Patients wish that physicians ultimately either had more time to spend with them or were able to do more in the limited time they have. Today's patients are hungry for information, so the more doctors can teach the patient, the better they will be received.

Physicians should be made aware of their personal biases or nuances in care: While changing provider empathy is difficult, creating patient materials that allow them to foster empathy will be helpful in correcting this need. For instance, patients should be encouraged to accurately describe their conditions and treatment experiences such that they do not downplay any issues that the physician would otherwise be more inclined to address than to have the patient continue living with that reality.

Interestingly, the majority of the items on this “wish list” can be accomplished if physicians had additional insights into their patients and how to engage with them. In other words: rather than engaging longer, just engage smarter.

See also: How Should Pharma Deploy Messaging in EHR Systems?

Research shows that patients forget anywhere from 40% to 80% of medical information provided by healthcare providers almost immediately. So when providers are able to hear back from patients after they've had an opportunity to digest information, they are often witnessing more authentic and informed feedback. Online communities offer an accessible platform for patients to communicate with others who may have experienced the same trajectory in their care and which is where we see a lot of these conversations happening.

By participating in active listening, not just during the appointment, but also at other points of contact where a patient might be disclosing information, physicians will be better suited to treat the patient holistically, beyond just the combination of their conditions. This approach to care is being increasingly emphasized in medical education as both the industry and patient advocacy groups have begun to acknowledge that patient insights can play a large role in disease manifestation and treatment.

Dave Taylor is director of research at Inspire.