Monday, July 11, 2011

Interpersonal communication with your doctor ... improvements on the way?

Today's New York Times featured a front-page article about a new interview process that is being used in medical schools throughout the nation, most notably the newest in Roanoake, VA:

Medical schools require people skills

The interview process involves an increased emphasis on patient-doctor interaction. This approach attempts to minimize the number of ranking medical professionals who inappropriately bully their staff or surpress patient interaction. Instead, a new focus is emerging that will ostensibly prevent patient injury by improving the population of doctors with developed communications skills.

In other words, your doctor won't be a jackass who orders nurses around and refuses to listen to your complaints.

This is a concept that I have been championing informally for the past several years after a series of difficult interactions with medical professionals. I understand that the technical side of medicine is important; after all, if you don't know what kind of medication to prescribe for a specific ailment, you're unlikely to be a good physician. On the other hand, though, I think it's important for doctors to realize that suffering from an illness is a very scary and emotional time for most people. Even a minor injury or condition can cause significant emotional stress because of the uncertainty and lack of control the patient experiences.

It is imperative that our modern medical establishment transition from the "doctor-on-high" perspective to a system that promotes team-based cures; that is, we should involve the patients in their own recovery instead of only dictating their courses of action. This is likely to encourage better compliance because the patients feel invested in their own health plan.

I think this new interviewing method is a fantastic concept. However, I wonder how many people will simply attempt to "study" their way around the interview by training on specific ethical questions instead of learning how to truly communicate. I believe that might be a significant problem, especially considering the characteristics of many students who are interested in applying to medical school. Potential physicians may see this test as simply another barrier to prepare for, instead of understanding the true value of communication in the healthcare setting.

I truly hope that this approach is a harbinger of a new direction for the healthcare establishment.

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