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“Lost in Clinical Translation” – Did you read it?

Wavebreak Media | ThinkStock + Scrubs

Wavebreak Media | ThinkStock + Scrubs

Scrubs contributor Theresa Brown recently wrote a New York Times article that we know will resonate with her fellow nurses.

Speaking about communication in the hospital, she writes about how easy it is for patients to not really hear what a doctor or nurse tells them. Whether it’s because they only hear the frightening keywords (“Blah blah blah Heart Attack blah blah blah Cancer,” as she puts it) or because of miscommunications, it’s a call to action for those in the field.

Here are some excerpts from the article:

I first witnessed one of these lost-in-translation moments as a nursing student. My patient had developed chest pain and severe shortness of breath during the final leg of a flight. She thought she was having a heart attack, but it turned out to be a pulmonary embolism: a blood clot in the lungs. Treatment required several days in the hospital. Already far from home and alone, she was very worried that a clotting problem would mean she could no longer fly. 

When the medical team came to her room, they discussed her situation in detail: the problem itself, the necessary course of anti-coagulation treatment and the required blood tests that went with it. To me, just at the start of my nursing education, the explanations were clear and easy to follow, and I felt hopeful they would give my patient some comfort.

After the rounding team left, though, she turned a stricken face to me and deadpanned, “Well, that was clear as mud, wasn’t it?”

She continues…

I sat down and clarified as best I could. But until then, I hadn’t realized what a huge comprehension gap often exists between what we in health care say to patients and what those patients actually understand.

And gets to the heart of the issue for patients…

A growing body of literature suggests that these clinical miscommunications matter, because the success of physician-patient interaction has a real effect on patients’ health.

In a 2005 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Eric B. Larson and Xin Yao, researchers at the University of Washington, claim that treatment outcomes are better when doctors show more empathy and take the time to make sure patients understand what’s going on.

Ill health is frightening, the treatments we offer can be scary, and stress and anxiety make people poor listeners. Our high-tech scans and fast-paced care save lives, but we need to make time for the human issues that pull at every patient’s heart.

Read the entire story here, then tell us, how is patient misunderstanding affecting you and your career? What is your workplace doing (if anything) to alleviate the problem?

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