Sunday, April 5, 2009

Do You Know What Your Doctor Is Talking About?

I read another of Pauline Chen's doctor-patient columns in March, but I enjoyed this one much more. The column addresses the serious issue of "health literacy" for patients, and talks about the shared understanding that is sometimes missing between doctors and patients. Although it is a column, it provides supporting statistics and quotes that drive Chen's point home.

The article begins with a powerful--although slightly long--illustration of the danger of limited health literacy. She uses the story of a patient who ended up dying because he didn't follow his instructions for at-home care. Chen now realizes that she may not have been connecting with him on a level at which he could understand and act on what he was hearing.

Chen connects Jack's story to a larger trend of limited health literacy. Chen defines the term and then points to the trend. Tens of billions of dollars in health care costs go to people who are hospitalized repeatedly because of this problem, Chen says, and then cites an even more powerful study statistic: elderly patients with limited health literacy are twice as likely to die.

Next, Chen quotes Dr. Rebecca Sudore, associate professor of medicine, at length. However, all of the Sudore quotes have a point, are clear, and support Chen's opinion that health literacy and doctor-patient understanding is important. The article ends with Sudore's advice on how to achieve this understanding. This makes the article important for both patients and doctors. All in all, this column was very clear and well-written and makes a great case for the importance of health literacy.

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