Gone are the days when an authoritarian approach to patient care was the accepted norm. These days, we expect healthcare professionals to act towards patients with empathy, and engage them in treatment decisions.
Indeed, patients have never been so empowered! The availability of medical information online can support informed decision making by patients. Online communities, for example patient organisations or closed disease-specific Facebook pages, may be a powerful source of emotional support.
On the other hand, information found online can lead to un-realistic expectations and patient refusal of therapeutic recommendations, for example due to fear of adverse events or mistrust of the physician. I’m sure that many physicians roll their eyes at the idea of ‘Doctor google’! I recall that a doctor friend of mine has a “Please Do Not Confuse Your Google Search With My Medical Degree” mug, which thankfully she keeps at home!
Despite the potential pitfalls, trainee doctors continue to be educated on the ‘person-centric’ approach. I was intrigued by an article on the BBC website detailing an initiative in Belfast in which medical students wore temporary tattoos designed to look like skin cancer to gain insight into living with melanoma. The aim was to train students to be competent but also compassionate with patients. The study leader, Dr Gerry Gormley, reports that the effect on students had been ‘profound’, and it will be interesting to read the study findings when they are published in the British Journal of Dermatology.
In medical communications, we strive to use innovative ways to engage and enthuse our audience, who are often physicians. The skin cancer initiative really resonated with me as a novel approach to achieving a change in attitude. It’s good to remember that sometimes the simple ideas can be the best!