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How to talk with doctors efficiently? Doctor’s advice to families of patients
Renowned liver diseases expert and Professor at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Sanjiv Chopra – on how family members could best communicate with doctors who treat their loved one in a hospital:
One of the best things that patients can do is have family meetings and say: “You know, the doctor will be coming later this morning or afternoon to visit mom, or aunt, or dad, what questions should we ask?” And then write them down, because what happens is when the physician comes, he or she often stands at the foot end of the bed. The family and the patient think he’s going to turn on his heels and walk away. He could stand for 20 minutes and they think he spent two minutes. I learned 30 years ago, maybe even longer, from a colleague of mine, Dr. Mark Peppercorn, He said: “When you go for rounds, pull up a chair and sit down. You could spend five minutes and the patients will think that you gave them all the time. And before you leave, ask the question, ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ You know what, you may think of questions as I walk out, or when the family comes to visit you this evening. You have a piece of paper and a pen, write them down. When I come later this evening or tomorrow morning, we’ll talk about it.” I think we need to do that, and we need to empower the families to feel very comfortable looking at somebody in authority and asking them questions. And amongst the questions I encourage my patients and friends of mine, who are dealing with a serious medical issue is to ask their doctor, surgeon and radiotherapist: “What would you do if this is a member of your family?” And that will hopefully give you the right answer and a very honest answer. So this is very important! When I spoke to Professor Lawrence Cohn, a pioneer in cardiac surgery, he said: “Most importantly, you have to ask the doctor all the questions that are on your mind. Don’t hold back and ask the hard questions.” – Yes, but write them down, because I think people forget and we all do that. And sometimes you get intimidated with this professor who walks and surrounded by fellows and residents and students and nurses and there’s this whole big group. And you might feel intimidated and then you might forget and get distracted. So write the questions down, – It’s very important.