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Patients Don't Remember What Their Doctors Tell Them

Patients Don't Remember What Their Doctors Tell Them

Mayo Clinic study of patient-physician communication found that patients frequently do not remember what their doctor tells them.

The study, reported in the December issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, focused on the results of general medical examinations given to 566 community patients. Researchers collected information from both patients and physicians about health problems and cardiac risk factors uncovered in the examinations. They found that patients, surveyed at home after the examination, did not mention 68% of health problems diagnosed by their physician, including 54% of their most important diagnosed health problems. Some of the most frequently diagnosed health problems not reported by patients included: hypothyroidism, colorectal polyps, obesity, osteoarthritis, and tobacco abuse.

Study author Dr. Sidna Scheitel believes that the low level of agreement between physician and patients is due to a number of factors--misunderstanding of medical terminology used by doctors; "selective listening"; and denial of the presence of health issues, such as obesity and tobacco use. Also, patients and physicians may differ in their perception of the importance of a health problem.

The survey found that patients who had received a new diagnosis or diagnosis of a major health problem and patients who traveled a considerable distance for their care were most likely to remember and follow what their doctor had discussed with them.

Dr. Scheitel says the study suggests that doctors should consider giving problem lists or summary letters to patients to improve and reinforce the communication and management of health problems.

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