April 12, 2012

The Sound of Silence: Patients Overwhelmed By Wealth of Information

by Levin & Perconti

For years there has been a push to make medical patients better informed about the treatments they are receiving. Our Illinois medical malpractice attorneys have frequently posted stories that highlight how certain errors or cases of Illinois medical malpractice might be caught if patients asked more questions and otherwise checked up on their medical professional’s decisions. That ultimate goal is to have more rational medical decision-making conducted by community members who are much more aware of what treatment options are available to them and what risks they present.

However, some are now questioning whether there has actually been a backlash as a result of the surge of new patient information. In other words, even though there may be more evaluations, reports, and other data presented to patients, there is still uncertainty as to whether patients understand the information in a clear way that makes them capable of using it effectively. That was the point of a new comprehensive essay on the subject published last week by Hospitals and Health Networks Magazine.

For one thing, some of the biggest websites which allow consumers to see rankings/data information for hospitals on various factors are not all that easy to use—that includes the “Hospital Compare” website run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Even then much of the information provided on the sites is somewhat vague and unhelpful. For example, some compare everything to the national average and often indicate that a facility is “no different” than that average. It is hard to understand exactly how helpful that general concept is to the patient.

Our Chicago medical malpractice lawyers are also aware that there is a big push for patients to ask more questions of their physicians. However, some of the sites include suggested questions that may not be all that helpful. For example, one list from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality suggests patients ask “Which hospital is best for my needs?” It is unclear how physicians will react to that question and many patients may not even have many any options because of their insurance.

The essay notes that there has been a proliferation of “report cards” on hospitals and doctors. Most consumers appreciate these lists, but they are not of much value unless the consumer knows how to use them. Last month a Health Affairs story explained how these report cards “can be difficult to understand and use and, to date, has had minimal influence consumers’ choices.”

Yet the answer to all of this cannot simply be less information, but better communication overall. One expert in the field recently echoed a point that each medical malpractice lawyer at our firm have mentioned repeated, “Communications breakdowns are the most common root cause of health care errors that harm patients.” Part of the problem, therefore, is the challenge of getting physicians to answer real questions in easy ways and in a format that all can comprehend. Medical providers share much of the blame on this point, because they often present shades of the truth. Physicians admitted in an anonymous Journal of General Internal Medicine study of failing to provide alternatives to patients in certain cases or of failing to fully inform them of certain risks. Of course, patient-centered care can never be fully had unless doctors provide full and honest information to the patient at all times.

See Our Related Blog Posts:

Tips for Patients to Become More Involved In Their Healthcare

More Questions Need to Be Asked to Reduce Medical Malpractice