Communicating with patients encouraged

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has launched an initiative with the Ad Council to encourage clinicians and patients to engage in effective two-way communication to ensure safer care and better health outcomes.

For nearly a decade, AHRQ has encouraged patients to be more involved in their health care, and this new initiative builds on previous public education campaigns AHRQ has conducted under contract with the Ad Council around the theme "Questions are the Answer." This phase of the initiative features new public service ads directed at clinicians with the message that a simple question can reveal as much important information as a medical test. Research shows that better communication correlates with higher rates of patient compliance with treatment plans. This improved compliance can lead to better blood sugar control for patients with diabetes, for example.

"We know that when patients and clinicians communicate well, care is better. But in today's fast-paced healthcare system, good communication isn't always the norm," said AHRQ Director Carolyn M. Clancy, MD. "This campaign reminds us all that effective communication between patients and their health care team is important and that it is possible, even when time is limited."

An original series of new videos on the AHRQ web site (www.ahrq.gov/questions — select "Patient and Clinician Videos") features real patients and clinicians discussing the importance of asking questions and sharing information. Several patients discuss how good communication helped them avoid medication errors or obtain a correct diagnosis. Clinicians emphasize the benefits of having their patients prepare for medical appointments by bringing a prioritized list of the questions they wish to cover.

Bill Lee, a patient from Baltimore, who is featured in one of the videos, said, "I used to think, he's a doctor, who am I to ask a question?" Lee, who has suffered 10 heart attacks since 2004, noted that good communication is the key to successfully managing his heart disease and diabetes. "If I had not started asking questions of my doctors, I honestly think I'd be dead today," he said.

The web site also features new resources to help patients be prepared before, during and after their medical appointments. The resources include:

• An interactive "Question Builder" tool that enables patients to create, prioritize, and print a personalized list of questions based on their health condition.

• A brochure, titled "Be More Involved in Your Health Care: Tips for Patients," that offers helpful suggestions to follow before, during, and after a medical visit.

• Notepads designed for use in medical offices to help patients prioritize the top three questions they wish to address during their appointment.

The brochure and notepads are available for co-branding. Organizations that wish to promote patient and clinician communication and safer and better health care may use the materials for their members, employees, and patients. Materials can be found at www.ahrq.gov/questions in the "Tips and Tools" section.

The new ads for clinicians will run in donated space this fall in a variety of print and online medical and allied health journals, including "The New England Journal of Medicine," "The Journal of the American Medical Association," "American Family Physician," "Annals of Internal Medicine," "Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants," and "The Journal for Nurse Practitioners." The print ads, which were created pro bono by the advertising agency LLNS, will reach a combined audience of more than 2 million clinician readers, can be found at www.ahrq.gov/questions/psas.htm.