A study of patients across the country has called for better communication by doctors to prevent conflict in their relationship. The study, carried out by the Indian Medical Association in the wake of a series of assaults on doctors, has found that nearly all patients would like their doctors to give them a detailed explanation about their illness and treatment, and almost 9 of 10 would like their doctors to be hear them out when they describe their assessment of their condition “in their own words”.
The study, which aimed to assess patients’ expectations of doctors, asked five questions of 1,419 respondents, 96% of whom said they want their “doctors to explain… everything about illness, investigation and drugs”. “Technology is changing the face of the doctor-patient relationship. Patients obtain information on the Internet and cross-check every fact,” said Dr K K Aggarwal, IMA president and principal investigator of the survey. “The findings clearly reveal that patients now want doctors to impart complete information about diagnosis and treatment. Until now, doctors in India have not been comfortable telling patients about the severity of their condition… Doctors should now start communicating everything to a patient. Otherwise, it could lead to a conflict in the doctor-patient relationship.”
The study found 88% of the respondents wanted their doctor to listen to them express what they have understood, and 98% wanted their doctors to listen to them in “great detail on the first consultation”. “If the patients wants doctors to listen to them about what has been told to them, then they have to start understanding the language of patients,” Dr Aggarwal said. “This aspect of the doctor-patient relationship is rare in India. Doctors need to make patients feel like equal partners in decision-making.”
For a doctor to give such time, the challenge is a low doctor-patient ratio — 1 to 1674, according to the Medical Council of India. “The government itself states that four minutes is the average time given by a doctor to a patient,” Dr Aggarwal said. “The study found that patients want doctors to listen to them in great detail. However, doctors briefly interact and recommend tests during the first consultation, which is why we are seeing a rise in incidents of violence. This can be addressed only if we augment the medical infrastructure in the country.”
The margin of error in the study is 2%, he said. “We will continue the study with a larger sample size in the next few months. This will be key to understanding the changing expectations of patients.” Another study carried out by the IMA recently, this one on doctors, had found that 80% of doctors “have had to face some degree of violence or aggression from patients and their relatives”. That survey also found that 83% of doctors said their patients get “upset if doctors are late in their appointments”.