Winter 2007

P R A C T I C E    M A N A G E M E N T
NLMA develops kits to support patient-centred practice

Jonathan Carpenter Photo



In October, the NLMA mailed physician resource kits to all primary care physicians in the province to help improve patient-doctor communication.

By Jonathan Carpenter

In October, the NLMA mailed physician resource kits to all primary care physicians in the province to help improve patient-doctor communication. Since then, the NLMA has received a number of requests from clinics around the province for additional patient-centered materials.

The kits include a brochure and poster designed to educate patients about making the most of their office visit, while helping physicians manage issues that may impact on clinic efficiency. It includes guidance for such topics as urgent care protocol, how to communicate symptoms and booking appointments, among other issues.

“An important aspect of the work of the NLMA is to provide information on issues of importance to physicians and to our patients,” said NLMA President Dr. Joseph Tumilty.

“As physicians, we believe in partnering with our patients and we hope these materials will give them the skills to improve communications with their physicians and encourage people to take an active role in their health care.”

The shortage of doctors coupled with an aging population means more physicians in the province are coping with growing personal demands and more cases of complex health conditions. They are increasingly forced to accommodate large numbers of patients with less time to assess and address their individual needs.

In order to accommodate all patients while minimizing wait times, primary care physicians typically designate 12 to 15 minutes for a standard consultation. Therefore, it is extremely important that the patient knows how to effectively communicate their needs within the allotted time.

In January, the NLMA surveyed family physicians to determine if there are more appropriate ways for physicians to manage their practices and patient visits. Some respondents expressed a need for patient education materials on how to communicate appropriately during appointments.

Like any partnership, the patient-doctor relationship needs to be crafted through good communication. More and more patients today are becoming health consumers who want to participate in medical decision making. Problems can arise when patients arrive at their doctor’s office with preconceived expectations about how the practice functions. It can involve anything from the amount of time spent in the exam room to expecting an instant cure from the physician.

It is the physician’s responsibility to ensure patients reveal their expectations about their practice and their knowledge of how medical exams are structured. Distributing an educational brochure to patients will facilitate dialogue and help physicians align a patient’s thinking with their clinic’s policies and the way their practice functions.

“Part of our role as primary care physicians is being skilled communicators,” says Dr. Susan King, a family physician in St. John’s who assisted in the development of the materials for the kits.

Dr. King, who has also made the patient education materials available in her clinic, says that patients are more likely to evaluate their consultation based on a physician’s interpersonal skills rather than clinical competency.

“Communication is often thought of as a soft science. However, studies have shown that improving the quality of interactions in the examination setting can result in higher patient satisfaction, increased patient compliance and better health outcomes,” she said.

Because chronic disease management can be very complex and complicated, especially for some elderly patients, it is important to tailor communication to a patient’s level of understanding. Included with the resource kit is a list of Quick Tips that physicians may use as a reference for improving communication and managing patient expectations.

“By applying these simple Quick Tips in the examination setting, patients may be more adept at identifying areas of concerns, recalling information and adhering to instructions. We recognize that many of our physicians are already implementing a number of these strategies, but because our required communication skills are likely to change throughout our career, we should all review them from time to time,” said Dr. Tumilty.

Copies of the brochure and poster as well as additional Quick Tips for physicians and their reception staff are available on the NLMA website  or by calling or (709) 726-7424. Also available online are patient forms for listing symptoms and questions, which physicians may make available in their clinics to help prioritize and manage discussions during examinations.



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