We should begin this post with a simple definition: the word “doctor” comes from the Latin “docēre”, meaning “to teach.” This term started being used in the 14th century by a group of people with theological foundation dealing with matters of body and soul. In short time, it became dedicated to academics and medical practitioners.
Teaching and educating patients should be therefore one of the most important aspects of the medical practice. Unfortunately, we must accept that in today’s healthcare world this is not always the case. Sometimes clinician’s attention is diverted more towards collateral aspects, like high number of patients in busy clinics, medical insurance challenges, staff shortage, etc. That’s why there are so many cases when a consultation in a doctor’s office includes the most elaborated types of investigations and complex therapeutic protocols, no doubt well indicated and effective, but not much is said or done regarding patient’s understanding about the real causes of a particular condition, a proper analysis of patient’s particular life circumstances and some form of integration of our complex therapies in their daily life at a deeper level.
We may call this approach as a form of Preventive Medicine, a type of medical practice which is educating and encouraging patients to act in their best interest for the purpose of preventing a disease or its complications.
Especially in the middle of a global pandemic like the one humanity was forced to endure in the past almost three years, the major concern was focused on matters of survival and safety, while patient’s education was often limited on hygiene, social distancing, and vaccination. Nowadays we are slowly moving towards “a new normal”, with lots of changes in all aspects of our society. That’s why, learning the lesson of “better to prevent than to treat” this pandemic taught us in the most painful way for society, our medical practice should also embrace an improvement in terms of medical education for patients.
There are simple ways to enforce health education for patients in most of healthcare facilities, but everything starts with a heartfelt interest, motivation, and enthusiasm from the medical practitioner’s side. A genuine dedication is required to do so, willingness to investigate individual needs and to open a trustful path of communication.
A simple method to start implementing health education would be to dedicate some time at the end of any consultation for a general conversation about a specific condition. Inviting and encouraging patients to ask questions and clarifications regarding their circumstances is opening the gate to improve health outcomes.
Follow-up consultation is giving a good chance to evaluate the progress of a specific disease/condition. At the same time, it’s a good opportunity to continue and extend education on the respective topic. Unfortunately, most of the patient miss this opportunity, eighter because of their busy schedule or improvement of symptoms.
Sometimes patients might feel intimidated by unfamiliar medical terms and even anxious in the simple presence of “white coats”. That’s why it’s important to provide clear explanations and adjust the communication style, using a simple vocabulary, without lots of medical technical details.
Compassion and reassurance are the most powerful tools for medical practitioners, which can be used for a better communication with patients. The mission is to reach a level of partnership where both doctor and patient understand the fact that they are partners in this health journey, with equal responsibilities on long term. Doctor’s responsibility is to diagnose and treat medical conditions, but also to educate the patient for a significant progress on health and wellness path. The patient is responsible to acknowledge the information, make the right choices and act accordingly, towards the best health outcomes. After all, “each patient carries his own doctor inside him”, as Norman Cousins said.
It’s true that achieving consistent, long-term results regarding health outcomes requires lot of time and energy from practitioner’s side, but the reward is significant, because it’s nothing else more important than health and wellbeing of each patient.
Dr. Carmen Chiran
ENT Specialist, MD, PhD