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Understanding your doctor isn’t always easy – or your fault


Nearly two-thirds of Americans are not confident that they understood their doctor’s recommendations and the health information they discussed with their doctor after a visit, according to a new survey.

Confusion over health information and doctor advice is even higher among people who care for patients than among those who don’t provide care to their loved ones, the nationally representative survey from the AHIMA Foundation found.

The survey also shows that 80% of Americans – and an even higher portion of caregivers – are likely to research medical recommendations online after a doctor’s visit. But 1 in 4 people don’t know how to access their own medical records or find it difficult to do so.

The findings reflect the same low level of health literacy in the U.S. population that earlier surveys did. The results also indicate that little has changed since the Department of Health and Human Services released a National Action Plan to Improve Health Literacy in 2010.

That plan emphasized the need to develop and share accurate health information that helps people make decisions; to promote changes in the health care system that improve health information, communication, informed decision-making, and access to health services; and to increase the sharing and use of evidence-based health literacy practices.

According to the AHIMA Foundation report, 62% of Americans are not sure they understand their doctor’s advice and the health information discussed during a visit. Twenty-four percent say they don’t comprehend any of it, and 31% can’t remember what was said during the visit. Fifteen percent of those surveyed said they were more confused about their health than they were before the encounter with their doctor.

Caregivers have special issues

Forty-three percent of Americans are caregivers, the report notes, and 91% of those play an active role in managing someone else’s health. Millennials (65%) and Gen Xers (50%) are significantly more likely than Gen Zers (39%) and Boomers (20%) to be a caregiver.

Most caregivers have concerns about their loved ones’ ability to manage their own health. Most of them believe that doctors provide enough information, but 38% don’t believe a doctor can communicate effectively with the patient if the caregiver is not present.

Forty-three percent of caretakers don’t think their loved ones can understand medical information on their own. On the other hand, caregivers are more likely than people who don’t provide care to say the doctor confused them and to research the doctor’s advice after an appointment.

For many patients and caregivers, communications break down when they are with their health care provider. Twenty-two percent of Americans say they do not feel comfortable asking their doctor certain health questions. This inability to have a satisfactory dialogue with their doctor means that many patients leave their appointments without getting clear answers to their questions (24%) or without having an opportunity to ask any questions at all (17%).

This is not surprising, considering that a 2018 study found that doctors spend only 11 seconds, on average, listening to patients before interrupting them.



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