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The power of the internet

Can HCPs help patients by listening more?

The relationship between healthcare professional (HCP) and patient is changing; patients no longer rely on their HCP as the only source of information, trusting everything they say as gospel. Things have changed; people are more open and willing to talk about their health issues and the internet offers us a wealth of information we never could have imagined. That some sources are far from reliable doesn’t seem to matter.

For HCPs assessing the depth and accuracy of knowledge and understanding is no mean feat. HCPs have been grappling with this for years, so it is not so much the information patients come armed with but the mindset that accompanies it.

So how can they be prepared for patients armed with prior research? One simple way of acknowledging patient’s prior research and for HCPs to gauge the level of concern would be to ask them about their symptoms and how they feel in their own words – going beyond critical inquiry (the cornerstone of clinical best practice), giving patients the room to tell the stories they need to.1

The skill comes not only in opening up dialogue in a 10-minute appointment but also in respecting that it is their story, told in their words and through their language, not those of a qualified HCP. Through respect and compassion HCPs have the power to change the perception their patients have of the HCP–patient relationship moving it from adult–child to adult–adult.

As ill health – in particular serious illness – often makes people feel powerless; telling them, in their own words, there is an aspect of their lives they are still able to control.1 When we feel in control our ability to retain and absorb information improves, making the sharing of information with the HCP more valuable. But more than that, we all feel better when we know someone is listening.

1. Shapiro J. Illness narratives: reliability, authenticity and the empathic witness. BMJ Journals 2011;37(2)

24th December 2019

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