GPs should avoid medical ‘jargon’ and ensure that patients understand their instructions, say medical defence experts who estimate a fifth of all calls from their members last year could have been avoided with better communication.
The Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland said 20% of all medical contacts in 2012 were from members were in relation to patient complaints and that these could have been avoided with better communication between GPs and patients.
The MDDUS said doctors need to be extra careful when explaining to patients how to use medication. It further warned that telephone consultations come with even greater risk of miscommunication.
Supporting its argument, it quoted recent research from London South University which found that 43 per cent of people aged between 16 and 65 years unable to ‘effectively understand and use everyday health information.’
Dr John Holden, the joint head of the MDDUS medical division, said: ‘Doctors have a duty to discuss their patient’s condition and treatment options in a way that’s easily understandable so both parties can make decisions together. MDDUS has dealt with a number of cases where unclear or ambiguous patient instructions have led to a complaint.
‘Doctors should remember that patients aren’t always familiar with medical jargon. Advice regarding medication can be particularly confusing for patients. At the end of a consultation, a summary of any instructions given, whether it be treatment options or how often to take medication, may minimise errors.’
The GMC’s Good Medical Practice guidance states that doctors must ‘give patients the information they want or need in a way they can understand.’
The guidelines also highlight the need to ‘share with patients, in a way they can understand, the information they want or need to know about their condition, its likely progression, and the treatment options available to them, including associated risks and uncertainties. You must make sure, wherever practical, that arrangements are made to meet patients’ language and communication needs.’