For anyone who has had to step into a doctor’s office, you know the litany of emotions that run through your body.
Anxiety, confusion, worry, exasperation – and to say nothing of the physical pain or discomfort one might be in that brought them to the doctor in the first place. And for those with a rare disease, multiply that a few times, since often they have to cycle through several specialists and follows up and second opinions, etc.
So this study, by the Journal of General Internal Medicine sheds light on some uncomfortable truths: On average, patients get about 11 seconds to explain the reasons for their visit before they are interrupted by their doctors.
Furthermore, only one in three doctors provides their patients with enough opportunity to describe their situation.
While this may not come as a complete surprise to many of us, it is still concerning nonetheless.
The study finds that the statistic is truer for specialists than primary care givers – which hits rare disease patients harder, since they often need to see several specialists.
We can recall one patient we interviewed – Tara, who is battling mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) – rattle off all the specialists she had to see before reaching an accurate diagnosis.
“I’ve been seen by hematologists, allergists, immunologists, cardiologists, dermatologists, endocrinologists, internists, rheumatologists, pulmonologists, neurologists…“ remembers Tara.
It’s frustrating enough to even be there, so it must add insult to injury to feel like you’re not being heard.
How was the study conducted?
Researchers videotaped and analyzed the first few minutes of consultations between 112 patients and their doctors. According to the study, 36% of patients were able to put their agendas first. But patients who did get the chance to list their ailments were still interrupted seven out of every ten times.
“…It is invaluable to understand why the patients think they are [there] at the appointment and what specific concerns they have related to the condition or its management,” said Dr. Naykky Singh Ospina of the University of Florida, Gainesville and the Mayo Clinic. “If done respectfully and with the patient’s best interest in mind, interruptions…may clarify or focus the conversation, and thus benefit patients. Yet, it seems rather unlikely that an interruption, even to clarify or focus, could be beneficial at the early stage in the encounter.”
Now, this is just one study and no one can overstate the importance of doctors. The point is, despite not having a medical degree, patients are experts on themselves and their experiences. The patient voice is invaluable and must be heard.