Why medical communicators need to keep the patient’s perspective in mind

Reading about medical conditions or the latest surgical procedures can be fascinating. But when you’re the patient, it’s more of a fact-finding mission on a tight timeline than a leisurely learning experience.

A new procedure or technique a doctor suggests might sound amazing, but the questions you have as a patient are more likely going to be about what it will feel like.

I recently had a successful surgery that I had put off with dread. I delayed the surgery because I was afraid of it, didn’t want to have it and was hoping I wouldn’t need it. I’m sure many other patients have done the same.

I reached a point where having the surgery wasn’t a choice anymore, but a question of when and how.

Something great happened, though.

The more I learned about the surgery, the better I felt about it.

Knowledge and empowerment pushed fear aside.

With the knowledge I have now, I wish I would have just gotten it done several years ago! I found it very reassuring when I became aware of the many processes, procedures and safeguards in place before and after surgery. 

As I put more distance between myself and that experience, I want to remember what it was like to be a patient and consumer of medical information.

I wanted honest answers, statistics about outcomes and recommendations about the best way forward for my specific case. I wanted to know the pros and cons of different options.

Clinicians are focused on achieving good outcomes for their patients. That benefits everyone: patients, insurers, hospitals and the physicians themselves.

Patients, however, are concerned with more than just a good outcome—they want the whole experience to be as comfortable as possible. There’s a reassuring peace of mind that comes from understanding what’s going to happen and knowing you’ve done everything you can to prepare for it.

Good patient education prepares patients for a procedure—and not just in terms of being physically ready. With surgical patients and many other categories of patients, there’s an emotional component as well.

Patients want to know:

Will it hurt? How badly and for how long?

How long will I need help with bathing and dressing or with preparing meals?

When will I feel like myself again?

When can I go back to work?

The answers to those questions can cause anxiety about a potential dependence on painkillers, not having someone to help with household chores or not being able to return to work soon enough to keep up with bills.

Doctors will tell you they can’t predict exactly what a patient’s experience will be like because every patient is different. However, it’s helpful to know that most patients don’t have the worst-case-scenario outcome that’s weighing on their minds.

As medical communicators, we need to be aware that the person reading the information is likely scared or nervous and in need of reassurance and straightforward answers — right now.

Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

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