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Monday, November 2, 2009

I can’t hear you while I’m listening: Communicating with your doctor

A stethoscope amplifies inaudible heart and lung sounds in a very satisfying way. If, however, the owner of the organs under evaluation decides to make a comment during the exam, what results is a painfully loud, unintelligible blast of noise directly into the doctor's head.

It was during such an interruption almost 30 years ago that Dr. Richard Baron, a Phiadelphia internist, grumbled at his patient: "Shhh. I can't hear you while I'm listening." The phrase has undoubtedly been said by many, but Dr. Baron was the one with the wit to stop and laugh (and reflect at length in a classic medical article), realizing that he had enunciated in pure koan form probably the single greatest tension in modern medical practice.

Against the siren song of all those beautiful instruments and machines, whatever the patient has to say is sometimes just an annoying interruption.

This is a caution about the use of technology. It's also a caution to patient advocates, to ensure we don't get in the way of the doctor's listening to the patient.

Advice: Find a doctor who listens to you – and do your part by enabling him or her to listen fully, in every sense of the word.

Read another physician listening story. Thanks to Dr. Abigail Zuger for the source story in the New York Times on Oct. 27.

1 comment:

Megan Waechter said...

Reading through your blog tonight, I was hoping I could receive some help from you and your readers on some basic research for my class at California State University Long Beach. Any person who has visited another individual in the hospital within the last two years can participate in my survey, and it only takes ten minutes. I would like to hear the voice of the visitors in the hospitalization experience.

Thank you for your help; it is greatly appreciated.

The link follows: