Tuesday 25 June 2019

Communication is a key skill that too many neglect


(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Much of what goes on in the surgery between the doctor and patient remains unspoken.

But the consistent and collective accounts from women and bereaved families affected by the CervicalCheck scandal provides compelling evidence that some of our medics have a major problem with communication, if not compassion.

Powerful testimonies were recounted by women who had developed cancer, or bereaved relatives when they received delayed audit reports revealing details of wrong smear test results. One family was told "nuns don't get cervical cancer".

It is the first time it has been graphically told by so many. But the reality is that it is well known that doctors in this country are the subject of many complaints to the Medical Council, which regulates the profession every year.

Most come from aggrieved patients who take the major step of lodging a complaint.

Communication is the highest category of complaint made to the regulator every year. Last year, doctors ended up having to answer to 126 of these allegations compared to 68 involving clinical investigations and examinations.

Poor communication can amount to "miscommunication", not explaining a diagnosis or treatment plan in an understandable or clear manner, a disagreement, or simply a personality clash".

The Medical Council has said that in "a large number of cases these issues can be dealt with by a simple apology where appropriate or with mediation".

Chief executive Bill Prasifka said: "When communicating with patients, a doctor should be honest and give all relevant information. A doctor should welcome questions from patients and respond to them in an open, honest and comprehensive way."

Medical students now get classes in communication and doctors' insurance companies remind them regularly how getting it wrong can lead to litigation.

Dr Gabriel Scally, who detailed the CervicalCheck encounters in his report, pointed out most of the doctors were male.

It is an urgent issue for training bodies to tackle. Many a good doctor can end up letting themselves down with a bad manner.

Irish Independent

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