The Patient-Doctor Relationship Gap


Physicians who rank poorly in their communication skills with patients were associated with reduced rates of medication adherence in a new report.

A cross-sectional study of nearly 9,4000 patients in the Diabetes Study of Northern California (DISTANCE) found roughly 30% of patients who gave their physicians poor ratings when it came to involving them in decisions, understanding their problems with medications, and eliciting their trust were less likely to refill their cardiometabolic medications than those whose doctors were deemed to be good communicators, researchers found. For each 10-point decrease in the Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems Survey (CAHPS), the prevalence of poor medication adherence increased by 0.9% (P +0.1), the researchers added.

“One of the tricks is that medication adherence is an inherently physician-centric concept,” says lead author Neda Ratanawongsa, MD, MPH, assistant professor in the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF). “We’re asking you to take medicine that we think will be best for you. That’s been the way that physicians operate for years, often appropriately so. But part of this is figuring out how to encourage the patients to disclose their decision that ‘Yes, I do want to take that medicine’ or ‘No, here’s why I don’t want to take that medicine.’”

Dr. Ratanawongsa adds that hospitalists and other physicians have to develop a sense of trust with patients to build relationships. Future studies could then track patient satisfaction and adherence over time to see if a corollary exists. Also, she says, hospitalists shouldn’t be discouraged that most of their relationships aren’t long-term ones like those found in other specialties.

“I wouldn’t underestimate the impact a hospitalist could have, whether one-time interaction or not, to change an existing therapy program,” Dr. Ratanawongsa says. “It’s important for hospitalists to understand the power of their words.”

Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.

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