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Help me teach doctors to communicate!

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  June 24, 2013 06:38 AM

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This week I'm starting something I'm really excited about: I am going to help the resident physicians at Boston Children's learn to communicate more effectively with patients and families.

doctor talking.jpg
We doctors are not always great at communication, as many people like to point out. To be fair to us, though, it's not something we generally get much training in. We are trained instead in talking to each other, in a whole other jargon-filled language. In medical school, the more you use jargon, the more you speak in telegraphic, abbreviation-filled sentences, the better. So when it comes time to switch to plain English, well, it truly is like switching languages. 

Plus, it's not always easy to explain complicated things in simple, understandable, thoughtful ways in situations that can be very stressful, and when time is often limited. Doing that is just plain hard.

That's why doctors need some help in learning how to communicate effectively. 

As excited as I am, I'm also a bit nervous. I want to do a good job, of course. I've been doing a lot of research and reading about how to help doctors learn this stuff, and I'll be basing a lot of what I do on Kaiser Permanente's wonderful Four Habits Model. But I'm a doctor. Do I really know what patients need and want?

I have certainly been a patient myself, and I've had to take my children to doctors lots of times. But that's not the same as not being a doctor; in all of those situations, I had more knowledge than the average person, more of an ability to understand and to know what to ask or say, than someone without medical training.

So I would love your help. What do you think doctors in training should know about communication? What do you wish your doctor would do--or stop doing? What have doctors done that has been good, that has made a difference for you? What do you think are the most important lessons I could teach?

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Leave me a message on my Facebook page--and "like" the page for links to all my MD Mama blogs as well as my blogs on Thriving and Huffington Post. 

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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