Healthcare Communications (Or Not)

Barton Associates just published an excellent infographic on the issue of communication between clinicians and patients. The data presented is, frankly, appalling:

Healthcare Communication Breakdown

A few details:

  • Only 20% of the content exchanged between the patient and the clinician is retained after the conversation, and only 10% of it is retained accurately. [I am not sure how much is retained by the clinician, versus the patient; hopefully the clinician is taking very good notes. The patient should be doing so, as well – if they are able – more about that, below.]
  • The average conversation last less than 11.5 minutes, during which time patients ask 0-2 questions of the healthcare provider.
  • 90% of adult patients have trouble following the medical advice they receive from the clinician.

So, as the infographic concludes, the most important issue in healthcare communication is “the illusion that it has taken place”!

Now, here is where it hits home, even more, for organizations such as Support For Home In-Home Care. Given that the data above relates to the average adult patient, what is the situation relative to seniors, and especially those with some form of dementia or other cognitive impairment?


We always strongly recommend that our clients be accompanied to doctor’s or other healthcare visits either by a family member or our Home Care Aide (sometimes both). Even for seniors without any cognitive impairment, resulting from stroke, injury or dementia (such as Alzheimer’s), we are still facing the sad statistics laid out in the above infographic. In addition, we believe that it is important for a patient to have an advocate with them in meetings with clinicians.

For patients / clients with dementia or other cognitive issues, the challenge for those individuals is, of course, much worse. We have seen situations in which the doctor does not understand the level of dementia and takes the patient’s statement that “everything is okay” at face value. We have seen the opposite, where the clinician dismisses what the patient has to say, unless the advocate (caregiver) is there to reinforce the patient’s issues.

Even assuming a successful healthcare visit, making sure that the advice of the clinician is followed by the elder or dementia sufferer is the next challenge. Our caregivers are supposed to take notes, to be shared afterward with the patient / client and other authorized individuals. Compliance with medication and other therapy prescriptions begins with understanding.

So, the challenge for all of us, as patients or loved ones of patients or professional caregivers, is to focus on raising the level of understanding, of both the clinician and the patient involved. As questions. Take notes. Have an advocate with you, where possible.

Best wishes as you face your own and others’ healthcare communication challenges.



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