Guest blogger and SPM member Nancy Finn looks at ways to improve patient-physician communication.

There has been a lot of discussion about patient/provider communication, partly driven by the move to electronic health records and the question of who has access to the contents of that record, and partly driven by a heightened awareness among patients that they must control their health destiny because basically no one else will.

Some even contend that patients should have access to their lab reports. But let’s face it, most patients do not know how to read these reports, nor do they want to. To resolve this dilemma, and help patients become more empowered and engaged, they need easy tools such as lists of questions to ask when they are in front of their physicians and other healthcare providers, and a notebook to jot down answers. Some even need an advocate with them to help them understand and remember the physician’s instructions.

In Chapter One of my book, e-Patients Live Longer, The Complete Guide to Managing Healthcare Using Technology, I provide suggestions for the reader to think about regarding what outcome they want from a visit with the doctor; what characteristics make a good patient and key questions to ask during an annual checkup.

Just last week, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality announced that they had a Question Builder Tool on its website www.ahrq.gov/questions that outlines the kinds of questions patients should ask when seeing a doctor. Question Builder is a great tool for patients who know where to find it. Unfortunately, not many people will search it out or take the time to go through all of the links and choose the questions that are relevant to their care.

If providers really want to help empower their patients, and make their time with patients more efficient, they have to suggest these resources to their patient population.
Will this format for communication save time and money? You bet it will. The patient will experience fewer redundant tests, medication side-effects will be reduced and fewer errors will occur. Patients will be more compliant about following treatment plans, and more educated about their health issues. This has been discussed long enough. Now is the time for action.

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