Doctors Talking with Patients/Patients Talking with Doctors: Improving Communication in Medical Visits

By Debra L. Roter; Judith A. Hall | Go to book overview

Preface

There are important ways in which the exchanges of doctors and patients can be improved, for the benefit of both. In emphasizing the doctor-patient relationship, we do not imply, however, that all the woes of the medical system can be traced to that source. In the United States, ever-rising costs of health care are a terrible burden to the economy, and millions of citizens cannot get or afford proper medical care. This dilemma, just one of many, is not solved by studying what happens within the four walls of a doctor's office.

But what happens within those walls is extremely important--the words and gestures, the decisions, the attitudes, and the presumptions held on both sides are key elements of the medical experience. Encounters with doctors are highly charged--often comforting and rewarding, sometimes upsetting and disappointing. Not only do people remember, often word for word, some exchange with a doctor, but these exchanges are frequently recited for family members and friends. For some people, the words of the remembered dialogue during a past medical visit in themselves take on the full significance of a life event, creating distress anew in each repetition--or providing comfort and reassurance.

The significance of doctor-patient communication goes far beyond personal hopes and disappointments, for years of research now proves that these exchanges have far-reaching impact. A patient's interest in the health care process, willingness to visit doctors, cooperativeness, knowledge, and health itself can be traced to the character of these exchanges.

Like many who study health and illness and the process of medical care, we believe that medical care is a social process as well as a technical one. In

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