This week, let’s talk about communication; the communication between doctors, nurses and their patients.
I have two questions: why is it so difficult for doctors to tell their patients what is wrong with them and what they are doing to cure them? Why the silence, the sarcasm or even insults when a patient wants to know what you have found after asking all those “weird” questions and probing and prodding him/her in all sorts of private places?
A patient once asked, “Is it not easier on everyone for a straight, honest answer than the diatribe about the fact that you are the doctor, and I am not a doctor? Of course I know that and that is why I am sitting in front of you!”
The arrogance and condescension is sometimes absolutely unbelievable.
Apart from the fact that an informed patient is more inclined to be compliant with the prescribed treatment, a respectable communication between a doctor and his/her patient builds trust, allays anxiety and prevents blame later on. Most importantly it is the patient’s right.
Again, the rationale for the arrogance and the condescending attitude is lost on me. What is the gain for a doctor to refuse to communicate or even be rude? Power play? What power? The power we wield is the power that comes out of the respect patients have for us. We do not gain that respect through arrogance.
And do nurses really lose anything if they answer patients’ questions directly, truthfully, respectfully and nicely. Adding a smile will not hurt!
Some reasons have been given for the rudeness: 1. that doctors and nurses are overworked and working conditions (including pay and benefits) are bad. 2. The worst reason that I have come across is that, sometimes, patients are rude. My question for any nurse who has used the second reason is this, “in your experience has being rude to a rude patient ever made the patient less rude”. No, it makes matters worse.
I am not holding brief for a rude patient; I have met a few in my day. They can be irritating, disruptive and a nuisance. The good news is they are few and far between. They are rare. The best way to deal with them is to be nice to them, it disarms them. Being nice to them is not a weakness. Indeed it is great strength. That is the strength that our profession should portray.
This lack of communication and arrogance breeds mistrust and anger. It is the stuff that leads to malpractices suits. The research data is there. I know that it is uncommon for patients to take doctors in Ghana to court for malpractice but I can assure everyone, as much as we will not like to hear it, that it is coming. With all the negativity going on about healthcare, drowning out the good and great things that most healthcare workers are doing, I will not be surprised if malpractice suits become part of our lives sooner rather than later. If the unfortunate day comes, I believe that one of the reasons for it will be the poor communication between doctors/nurses and their patients.
Question is: are there really any legitimate reasons for the poor, sometimes rude, communication between doctors, nurses and their patients? What can we do to improve the discourse between doctors, nurses and their patients?