Health communication has been a problem in my life lately, especially in the past few years, but it’s a problem that I can influence. My mom has been in and out of the hospital. Therefore, I have been to lot of meetings with doctors and surgeons, where I only understand a quarter of what they say. This paper will focus on the socio-psychological traditions that are involved in the field of health communication, the impact they have on my life, and what I can do to help the problem. Although the doctors are not doing this on purpose, the terms they are using make them seem like they are not empathetic towards families. Most of these doctors have shared information with me about my mother’s chronic illness, but I haven’t been able to understand most of it because of the medical terminology that is being used. I feel that if doctors would take the time to really get to know a patient, and their families, they would be able to connect with them more than just another sick person in a bed. By doing this, families would feel more comfortable with doctors, gain trust in them and the decisions they are making. With my step dad being an oncologist, it has been beneficial for me because he is able to break down the big words and explain, in laymen terms, what is wrong with my mom.
Much of the work that has been done, in regards to health communication, has been in the field of the socio-psychological tradition. This essay will look at several different theorists, and their views of health communication between doctors and patients. The socio-psychological tradition takes a looks at the scientific perspective of things which is done by experiments and tests to find credibility. One of the main ideas of the socio-psychological tradition is to look at the cause and effect outcome of the experiments conducted.
The first psychologist we are going to look at is Hannah Bayne. Hannah talks about when patients bring up their worries, doctors often change the subject, or focus on the medical treatment, rather than the emotional concern. Unfortunately, having this happen causes patients to see the message, ‘this is not what we’re here to talk about.’ Many patients often want to talk to their doctors about all their fears that come along with their illness. Although doctors do not intend to do so, they often seem to not show any emotion towards what the patients are feeling. The lack of empathy from doctors cause patients to be afraid to talk to their doctors about their illnesses. The [patients] are afraid that they will just be pushed to the back burner. (Bayne)
Another psychologist that has looked into the health communication field is Thompson. He looked more-so at the tension between doctors and patients. Thompson talks about the how the doctors are not taking into consideration the values, beliefs, and emotions of the patients. During an interview, one doctor said, “explaining illness is more than merely processing clear and thorough information; rather, it is working out health beliefs and uncertainties within the context of related beliefs and values that constitute our sense of self, roles, and relationships through interaction with health care providers, loved ones, and others”. As outsiders we think that doctors have it pretty easy, we think that all they need to do is report their findings to us in medical terminology. It is not that easy for them, there are many things that go the field of medicine. A doctor needs to look beyond just the outer layer of the patient; they must look at the values, beliefs, etc of the patient. (Thompson T.L., 6)
One thing that I want to focus on, and will mention later, is the terminology that is used by doctors when communicating with their patients. Bigi is another socio-psychological theorist that focuses on the use of ‘expert-to-non-expert’ interactions, and how one of the distinguishing features is that there is no or very little shared knowledge between the subjects. This means that whether you are a certified physician or just an average Joe, there is little or no shared knowledge between people when it comes to medical terminology. It is hard to feel comfortable with a doctor when he is using medical terminology that seems to be foreign language, and it may cause people to question their choice in medical care. (Bigi, 12)
Mary Talen is a psychologist that performs a “study that supports helping patients structure their communication using a written format that can facilitate doctor-patient communication. Patients can become more adept at describing their health concerns, organizing their needs and questions, and being proactive, which can have a positive effect on the quality of the doctor-patient communication during outpatient office visits”. This shows how the patient role in the communication process has received little attention, and how decision making skills depends on the communication between doctors and patients. The overall goal of this study was to help/teach patients to be more affective in the way they communicate with their doctors. (Talen, 4)
Now that we have taken a look at the socio-psychological tradition, I want to look at two traditions that I think should be involved in health communication; the semiotic and rhetorical traditions. These traditions offer the benefit of terminology and a created space for the doctor and patients.
In today’s society, there can be some confusion when it comes to the communication between doctors and patients and their family members. This problem invites rhetorical and semiotics analysis. The semiotic tradition focuses on signs and symbols; plain and simple. We can see how the semiotic tradition comes into play with health communication in how doctors are using confusing medical terminology while communicating with patients and patient’s family members may just cause them to go into a state of panic. I would like to take a look at the work of Arthur Berger, who spent most of his time studying semiotics. I think that Berger would say that doctors are messing up semiotics by creating high anxiety in their patients. The fact that doctors are using large words when telling a patient about their results can be scary for just about anyone, therefore, the large words are not helping. However, I cannot put all the blame on the doctors. Health communication requires patients to be more medically educated. Doctors are using words that are not well-suited to their audience; words that are poorly chosen for their hearers; words that eliminate the role of emotion in the doctor-patient or doctor-family interactions. There’s nothing wrong with medical terminology, until that point where it is put in the middle of painful circumstances.
Doctors are well educated and there’s something wonderful about their terminology. The doctor can actually give a measure of comfort by being an expert. If the doctor actually has a name for something that is causing a person a great deal of pain or fear, the term (even if it’s very large and aggressive) can give the patient hope. If there’s a name, maybe there’s a cure. This is not just about the big medical terms that matter, but it is how the words are being used and how the doctor is acknowledging the patients as a human being. It is not the choice of words being used, it how the words are being used.
There are a few things doctors can do to help the patient feel more comfortable, besides the reduction/explanation of medical terminology. However, one thing that doctors can do is connect on a personal level with their patients. Dr. Steven Abramson says, “I think all of us, as doctors, should understand that our main role is to not just help people, but to really understand them and to have every encounter with a patient be something they leave feeling better.” (Moisse, 2) Doctor’s first and main goal is not just to help people but they need to be able to connect with their patients, so that the patient is able to trust them. “You need to know about their life, their home, their social network,” said Matthew Mercuri, a first-year medical student at Langone, “You need to get the whole picture so you can understand how the disease plays into it.” (Moisse, 2)
When focusing more on the rhetorical approach, which is my own identity and how it affects me as a suffering family member, in this essay we will look at the aspects of “feelings” and the empathy doctor’s use when communicating. We will also take a look how doctor’s speeches appear to be rehearsed and the effect that it has on the patients and even the families of patients. “The rhetor aims at finding prepon- what is right, fitting, and appropriate for the situation. Rhetorical competence facilitates the caress that is offered to others in need of help.” (Hyde, 46) This sets up the perfect example of how Hyde tells us that, when communicating, there is a specific type of rhetoric to use for every situation in life.
When looking at the works of Hyde, he deals with the term “space.” Within this space we, as individuals, are able to feel involved in the world, and we feel as though we have a say in the decision making. Doctors are dealing with ethos, and they need to realize that to live well and think well, their patients need a space to openly and comfortably discuss medical issues with them without feeling uneducated. If the doctors are not acknowledging the pain and the story that each patient has, it seems that the only thing they care about is the patient’s illness, not the patient’s feelings and emotions. To understand this, we need to look deeper into the meanings of space and ethos. Space has to do with acknowledgment, Hyde says that “Acknowledgment provides an opening out of such distressful situation, for the act of acknowledging is a communicative behavior that grants attention to other and thereby makes room for them in our lives. With this added living space comes the opportunity for a new beginning, a “second chance” whereby one might improve his or her lot in life. There is hope to be found with this transformation of space and time as people conscience opt to go out of their way to make us feel wanted and needed, to praise our presence and actions, and thus to acknowledgment the worthiness of our existence. Offering positive acknowledgement is a moral thing to do.” (Hyde, 1). Ethos on the other hand, is “the acknowledgement that is established an environment wherein people can take the time to “know together” some topic of interest. Acknowledgement is an act oriented toward what is other than the person performing the act; it works to clear a “dwelling place” in space and time where other people and things can be carefully observed and listened to. (Hyde, 60)
There is a psychologist by the name of Colleen Fogarty who also looks at the relationship between the doctor and the patient. “To some patients, physicians may be like extended family members, who influence their lives throughout the life cycle. The history of patients’ relationships with physicians in the past can have significant impact on their relationship with physicians in the present”. Fogarty is looking at how the relationship between the doctor and patient can help the doctor care for the patient through an increased understanding of who the patient really is. If the doctor is able to understand the patient’s beliefs, behaviors, and expectations, then the relationship between the two of them will be strong. Fogarty would like doctors and patients to “spend more time with more complex patients to get important insights”. Fogarty is a very strong candidate for my essay because we have the same views; Patients are not just another number, each patient has a story, each patient needs time with the doctors for the doctor to understand in full what he/she is going through. (Fogarty, 4)
In conclusion, this paper highlights the “need for enhanced communication skills on the part of health professionals and those skills needed to begin on the most basic level; simple word recognition. Even more than is currently expected or encouraged, health professionals need to assess carefully whether or not meaning is being transmitted using both verbal and nonverbal assessment” (Thompson, 52). We can see this in the way that doctors are using their medical terms, but not creating a space for the patients and the patients families to know what is going on with their . Doctors are using medical terminology to inform the patient about what is going on. However, because many people are not educated in what the words mean, doctors are not helping them to learn what all of this means for them, or what decisions need to be made.