Patient teaching is an excellent way to build your doctor-patient relationship. Patients as a rule love to hear and understand medical information, especially when it relates to them personally or to their families. If they develop a problem like hypertension, the more you can explain to them about it, the more patients will feel that you are interested in their welfare and the more bonded will be your relationship with them. Even better, they will be more likely to follow your recommendations and they will therefore do better in the long run, which is really the ultimate goal that we want to achieve.
There are lots of opportunities for patient teaching if we watch for them.
When patients ask questions, take time to answer them in a teaching manner rather than in a begrudging don't-bother-me-I'm-too-busy-for-you manner. At least try to take 2-3 minutes out of a 15 minute visit to explain something important. You may have to say it 2 or 3 times to try to get them to remember it. Write it down for them so they can read it later. Some patients in their hunger for knowledge will want to take more time than you have. In that situation, try to schedule more time for them on their next visit. You could train your nurse to provide common explanations to patients for questions you hear frequently but don't always have time to answer.
Patient education handouts are an excellent way to provide more information for patients. Plus, it's something they can take home and get more out of it than they would if you just talked to them about it. Ideally, you should do both if you have the time.
Use models or posters for patient teaching in the office to help you explain things more easily.
You can also refer your patients to informative web sites as long as you know the information there to be very reputable. * * * * *
The most difficult thing to do however is to try to answer a question to which you really don't know the answer. In that situation, you should just say, I don't really know the answer to that, but I will try to find out for you. If it's important enough, you may decide it would be best to refer the patient to a specialist, particularly if the answer to the question will require a change in treatment.
It should never be an embarrassment to say you don't know something that isn't common knowledge within the medical community. It's truly impossible to know everything about medicine. As soon as you think you might have a handle on it, another situation always comes along to prove to you that once again, you didn't know everything you thought you knew. Even the smartest and most experienced doctors will tell you that.
What's more, there frequently is no right answer to many questions people will ask because nobody knows the answer. For every one thing we know about a subject, there are probably an infinite number of things we don't know.
If you need to know more about a subject before you talk to a patient, do some research. These days, any information you need is at your fingertips. Literally, an entire library of information is available to you at any time. Learn how to access this information quickly and easily off the Internet. And do your research before you see the patient. Try to anticipate their questions and know what you're going to say ahead of time. It doesn't instill a lot of confidence in patients to have to break away from an office visit to go look something up that you should have checked on beforehand.
At any rate, be honest. You can cautiously speculate an answer as long as the patient knows it's a guess, not a fact. They will appreciate your honesty and won't feel like they've had the wool pulled over their eyes. Be careful with speculation however, especially about bad news and prognosis. It may create unnecessary anxiety or stress. If the right answer is known, find out what it is and provide that information rather than speculate, and always explain with concern and compassion.
This page was last updated on March 28, 2009.
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