Danielle Ofri, MD, PhD, is a physician at Bellevue Hospital, the oldest public hospital in the USA, and a faculty member of New York University School of Medicine. She writes about medicine and the doctor-patient connection for the New York Times, Slate Magazine, and other publications. Danielle is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Bellevue Literary Review, the first literary journal to arise from a medical setting. She is the author of a collection of books about the world of medicine. Her most recent book is, "What Patients Say, What Doctors Hear."
Danielle highlights just how vital good communication is in the world of medicine. The great majority of malpractice lawsuits stem from miscommunication, far more so than actual errors in clinical practice. This is communication between doctors but importantly, between doctors and their patients.
There is an enormous cost of not listening in medicine. Danielle shares one particular study in which an extra twenty minutes spent between doctor and patient prior to a surgical procedure went on to save those patients from an additional three days in hospital, and reduced the amount of opioid painkillers they required. Leaving aside the health outcomes, the financial impact illustrated by this study is substantial.
Before a patient consultation, Danielle makes sure she has read up on all the relevant notes and charts. In this way she can listen undistracted while they talk, focused and looking at the patient, not looking at charts or a computer screen.
Danielle's research finds that doctors tend to interrupt their patients within eight to ten seconds of their speaking. She also notes that if left uninterrupted, patients will only speak for a minute to ninety seconds - a length of time Danielle thinks we can all aim to listen for! Dedicate a minute to undistracted, 'full frontal listening', and the speaker will give you the information they want to share and that you need. Danielle thinks of it as an investment in the future relationship.
Danielle shares a story of her father's experience in hospital, and how accompanying him gave Danielle a patient's perspective on things. It's very easy for a doctor who sees many patients every day to not listen deeply in each and every interaction, because there are so many. For the patient, however, this time is precious.
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