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ACOG's message to ob-gyns: Be clear when talking with patients

New recommendations from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists encourage ob-gyns to tailor health information to individual patients and use plain language during medical discussions. The organization's four opinion statements, published online April 20 in Obstetrics & Gynecology, are intended to improve patient-physician communication. The reports address effective patient-physician communication, cultural sensitivity and awareness, health literacy and partnering with patients to improve safety. "We recognize that one of the key components to [achieving positive] health care outcomes is communication," said Patrice Weiss, MD, chair of ACOG's Committee on Patient Safety and Quality Improvement, which helped write several of the statements. "Compliance with medical treatments, even patients getting their prescriptions filled, is really dependant on how well" they understand the health information discussed during the office visit, Dr. Weiss said. ACOG recommends that ob-gyns encourage patients to write down health concerns before their appointments and that doctors consider using email to answer patients' questions that arise after an office visit. During appointments, ACOG suggests that doctors avoid using medical jargon. They should ask patients to restate the health information that was discussed to make sure they comprehend it. The college also encourages doctors to use visual aids, such as illustrations, to help emphasize key points. The reports "are very basic and to the point, but oftentimes in medicine we forget the basics," said Dr. Weiss, chair of the Dept. of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and the Carilion Clinic, both in Roanoke, Va. Dr. Weiss said ob-gyns often "break into our medical language and start using abbreviations and big words, and patients may not understand." Nearly half of all U.S. adults -- 90 million -- have trouble understanding and using health information, according to an April 2004 Institute of Medicine report. Hospitalization rates and use of emergency services are higher among such individuals, the IOM said. To help ensure that patients comprehend issues addressed during office visits, ACOG encourages physicians to ask open-ended questions. For example, Dr. Weiss said a doctor could say to a patient, "What questions do you have for me?" She urged doctors not to ask patients "Do you understand?" She said some patients might be embarrassed to answer the question honestly. The full and original article can be found at: http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2011/04/25/hlsd0429.htm
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