Patients as well as doctors need to learn to become better communicators with each other

The failure to communicate effectively during medical visits can cause far worse damage than a mild case of frustration, studies show.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and the Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Houston have found that the elderly, those with low-English proficiency and those from minority populations are more susceptible than others to these disparate health outcomes than other groups.

“Patients as well as doctors need to learn to become better communicators with each other,” said Dr. Carol Ashton, a professor of medicine in health services research at Baylor and the director of the Veteran Affairs Health Services Research Center. “We know that when doctors and patients communicate well with each other, not only are both parties more satisfied with the relationship but health outcomes, like blood pressure and blood sugar levels, are better, and control of other disease symptoms are improved.”

Seven research projects and three support cores make up the Houston-EXCEED or EXcellence Centers to Eliminate Ethnic/Racial Disparities program, a federally funded research center at Baylor, charged with assessing the extent of these emerging health disparities and ways they might be resolved. Asthon is the principal investigator of the program.

One of the EXCEED studies, for instance, has demonstrated that even having a family member or friend present during an important medical visit – like receiving cancer test results – can increase the amount of information flow between doctor and patient. Lack of communication, as demonstrated by another one of the EXCEED studies, has been shown to result in belated detection and treatment of breast cancer in a number of minority women.

EXCEED is one of nine federally funded centers around the country, operating on a five-year grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and Office for Research on Minority Health.

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