Roundtable: "What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear"

One of the biggest hurdles facing physicians is also one that is the hardest to measure: communication.

In medical school there is a heavy emphasis on science courses. Given the importance of physiology, anatomy and pharmacology in a doctor's office, the focus on science makes sense.

But, there is also strong science that supports that better communication between doctors and their patients leads to better health outcomes. Dr.Renee Crichlow is a physician who trains people in the University of Minnesota's family medicine department. She joined MPR News host Kerri Miller for a roundtable.

"You can be someone who is quite competent, quite capable as a physician, but if you're not able to understand where the patient is coming from ... " Crichlow said, "If you're not able to elicit their story, then you're actually defeating your own intellect because you won't be able to apply it appropriately."

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One way Crichlow is training her residents to communicate better is by videotaping them interacting with patients within their first week and having them review it. As they watch the videos they identify things that might have gone wrong like rushing or interrupting a patient and offering advice for how to fix their mistakes.

Crichlow feels confident that by the time her residents move on, they have good communication down.

"The patient and the doctor, I think, really want to communicate," Crichlow said.

However, hospitals and clinics aren't always set up to be conducive to that.

"I have graduates who go off and have to see patients every 15 minutes," Crichlow continued. "I mean think about how that's going to affect someone's ability to tell a story."

Another problem occurs when you walk into a room with preconceived notions Dr. Amin Rahmatullah added. He is a cardiologist and director of the Heart Failure Program at Metropolitan Cardiology Consultants. His concern is that pre-conceived notions are not only bad practice, but can be dangerous because you might miss the diagnosis by trying to make their narrative fit your own.

Syl Jones, a playwright and a resident fellow for narrative medicine at HCMC, also joined the roundtable. He said that the best way to make sure the doctor hears what you need them to hear is to think about your story before your visit. "Make sure you outline the thing you really are interested in, make sure you say what you want to achieve in your treatment plan, and then ask the doctor how he or she feels about that."

Use the audio player above to hear the full conversation.

This program originally aired on June 16, 2017.