A colleague recently forwarded a New York Times article, “The Appointment Ends. Now The Patient is Listening.” The author Paula Span notes new efforts to help patients understand their health status by recording appointments.
I have often been asked about how to prepare for appointments with doctors. Although many of us do not know what questions to ask, it’s still important to bring a list and a recording device. My reason for suggesting patients record their appointments was not based on scientific principles but what I learned in my role of medical humanist at a cancer center in Vermont (2003-2005). I documented–in the patient’s own words–what they understood or misunderstood about their diagnosis, treatment options and how they were coping with illness. After having read and signed off on my medical humanist’s note, doctors would often say, “They never told me that.” In an emotionally charged conversation much is not retained. So, using the note as a reference, doctors would then ask, “What don’t you understand?”
Ms. Span notes that Dr. James Ryan, a Ludington, MI physician, recognizes it’s difficult for patients not to feel overwhelmed by what they hear during the medical visit. With permission he records appointments so his patients can listen to what was discussed. “At some point,” he believes, “it will become a normal thing.” In a 2013 blog “Why Every Patient Should Be Recording Appointments” I addressed the issue of recording visits.
It is now 2017. The time has come for patients to have every resource available to help with understanding what questions to ask. Whose life is it anyway?