Many people are familiar with the classic Abbott and Costello comedy skit “Who’s on First?” For those who are not familiar, the routine is a hilarious interaction between the two comedians as they discuss players on a baseball team while using confusing references such as “who’s on first” and “what’s on second.” The audience can see that Abbott believes he is clearly communicating the player names to Costello, but it digresses into a laughable experience of misunderstanding and frustration for both parties. The men become increasingly angry as the conversation goes on, and each feels that the other is not listening.
This situation may be funny in the world of entertainment, but it can be disastrous when it happens between doctor and patient. At times, conversation in the exam room can inadvertently go down a similar path of confusion. I recall one such experience when I was showing an x-ray to a patient. I pointed out, “Here is the fracture.” The patient looked at me, gave a sigh of relief and said, “Thank goodness doc, I was afraid you were going to tell me that it was broken.” At that moment I realized my choice of words had not provided the clarity I intended. Thankfully, this patient spoke out which alerted me to the misunderstanding allowing me to rectify it immediately.
Those of us in the medical field must be always mindful to ensure that we explain things in clear, everyday language. I apologize for our failures, which do happen. I also ask for your help. Doctors are human, and we may incorrectly assume that our patients understand what we are saying, especially if our patients do not tell us otherwise.
Healthcare is a partnership which requires communication from both patient and doctor. It is important to recognize that not all cultures and generations feel empowered to question a doctor. Other patients hesitate to ask what they feel might be perceived as a “silly” question. In addition, patients have varying levels of education and experience when it comes to participating in medical conversations. Sometimes, it helps the patient to have a family member or friend in the room to help the patient feel at ease and convey information.
Doctors strive to be sensitive to these situations, to welcome and encourage questions, then listen closely when the patient speaks. No doctor I know will intentionally or maliciously confuse a patient. We welcome your participation so both patient and doctor can best understand what care is needed. Let’s work together and keep the conversation going to make sure we both know “who’s on first” and “what’s on second” when it comes to your health.”
Jill Kruse, D.O. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. For free and easy access to the entire Prairie Doc® library, visit www.prairiedoc.org and follow Prairie Doc® on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show streaming on Facebook and broadcast on SDPB most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.