Communication: It’s a Good Thing

A patient having his blood pressure taken by a...
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A very lovely senior citizen related this story to me:

Her boyfriend had been in and out of the hospital most of the summer – but it didn’t have to be that way.

He had been tested and treated for several ailments but still wasn’t feeling well – in fact, some days he felt so weak that the fear was his heart might be giving out. He saw specialist after specialist and underwent numerous screenings, poking, and prodding, but his diagnosis remained a mystery. The reason was fairly simple –  his primary physician didn’t get the information from the cardiologist, who hadn’t spoken to the endocrinologist, or the pulmonologist… well, you get the idea.

Fortunately, my friend is what could be termed “feisty,” and after way too many days of “we don’t quite know” convinced her boyfriend to change tactics.

In a nutshell, he now has a medical home. All care is filtered through a (new) primary doctor, and the care team talks to each other and shares data. Turns out he was highly anemic – and is now receiving the proper treatment for his condition.

When physicians don’t communicate or share information it can lead to negative outcomes for the patient. Care is fragmented and disjointed, instead of coordinated and seamless. Patients and caregivers need to be in the loop – whether through sharing of EMRs or secure emails, or a password-protected patient website.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act emphasizes community-based coordination of care via medical homes. If this initiative is going to be successful in its goal to reduce hospital stays and lower costs, it will take a combination of technology and good old fashioned discussion. While information technology is a boon, optimal patient care still requires communication among the providers, patient, and family.

Talk to your doctor. And make sure your doctor communicates with the rest of your care team. As my friend said, you can’t have an orchestra on stage playing different tunes.  Everyone needs to be on the same page.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

– George Bernard Shaw

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