The problem: After your patient leaves your office, he or she forgets up to 80% of the conversation you had during the visit. As for the other 20% of the conversation, the patient’s recollection might be accurate around 10% of the time.
Recollection of information depends on a number of factors, including:
- Distress/anxiety during visit: When sharing a diagnosis with your patient, they will tend to focus on that one statement during the remainder of their appointment, instead of paying close attention to treatment options and other important information.
- Purpose of visit: Keep this in mind during each appointment and consider the level of urgency involved. Did the patient come in today because of a problem? Is this a follow-up appointment that was scheduled six months ago?
- Language used by the physician: A patient is more likely to remember things he or she can understand in simpler terms. Medical terms that might be misunderstood or misconstrued will not be remembered as easily as something that makes more sense to the patient.
- The ways information is shared: In most cases, medical information is shared with the patient verbally, which provides many opportunities for him or her to forget after the appointment since they are relying on memory alone.
The solution: Be as prepared as possible when it comes to sharing information with your patients. Reacquaint yourself before each visit–why is the patient here today? What questions might they have after their previous visit?
Present information in a way that is easy to understand. As you speak with your patients, it may help to write instructions or offer that your patient may record what you’re saying, and go over those notes together. Written information is remembered more coherently, and will lead to a better experience when it comes to treatment. The most important goal should be that you and your patient are on the same page by the end of the appointment.
When explaining, try to use pictures or diagrams as well. It helps if the patient has a visual to remember–even just using your hands to display a bodily function, or a quick sketch of how a prescribed medication works. Simple depictions should be used, with a clear link between the picture and the intended message. Think of these demonstrations as a supplement to your spoken information.
Try to explain things in sequence to your patient. It helps to have a loose formula in mind beforehand. Try the following, and pause between each to see if the patient has questions:
- Listen to the patient’s concerns (if applicable)
- Discuss the diagnosis with your patient
- Tell the patient what tests will be performed, or inform them of any applicable procedures
- Tell the patient what he or she can expect
- Tell the patient what treatment is needed
- Tell the patient how he/she can help him/herself throughout the entire process
When offering advice to your patients, be as specific as possible without loading up on details. For example, instead of saying “You need to drink more water”, suggest exactly how much water to drink. Simple and specific instruction will be better remembered than more general statements.
When your patients remember and understand the information you relay to them, they will be more satisfied with your care, and more likely to follow instructions and address concerns appropriately. Don’t assume that a patient won’t understand or desire to hear what you’re saying–instead, focus on the clarity of your message. How can you ultimately help them in the most efficient and concise way?
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(Source: Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine)