Harvard Men's Health Watch

Doctor-patient communication: A shared responsibility

Your body is yours alone, but you share responsibility for your health with your doctor. It's true for healthy people, who should collaborate with their physicians to plan a program to prevent illness. And when people become ill, sharing is even more important. The doctor certainly shoulders the major responsibility for establishing a diagnosis and planning a treatment. But for the treatment to work properly, the patient must understand his illness and follow the treatment plan responsibly.

Communication is the answer. Patients must convey their symptoms and concerns, and doctors must explain their diagnoses and treatment. It sounds simple, but a study shows that the chain of communication can have some mighty weak links.

The numbers speak

To find out how well people understand their diagnoses and treatments, doctors in New York surveyed patients when they were discharged from the medical service of a teaching hospital. To be eligible for the study, the patients had to have a good command of English and be alert, oriented, and able to understand the researcher's questions. They were allowed to supplement their memories by referring to their notes or other written material.

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