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The Art of Listening

I was reading an article in the Washington Post today about a medical mystery solved. Well, a headline with anything being solved definitely catches your eye. What was most surprising was that this mystery was solved by a doctor who listened.

Seems like such an easy concept. Listen to what is wrong with your patient and then try to figure out a way to help them. Listening is one of the first things we learn in school. So why is it so difficult for doctors? Well in this article, this woman had stomach like flu symptoms for 5 months; she did everything as instructed. She took her medications; saw a gastroenterologist; she even believed it was stress induced. Then after 5 months, she ended up seeing a different doctor because her regular one was out that day. This one listened and recognized the symptoms as a rare brain tumor.

If she never had seen a different doctor, the article said she would have been dead in 6 weeks. Maybe if her provider would have not assumed it was all in her head or the stress from finishing her MBA, she would have been spared the months of agony and years now of recovery. These things happen all the time- we are interrupted or we have a preconceived bias, but I know in my life, I rarely am harming the other person.

The more I research patient/physician relationships, the more I realize the mistakes that could have been avoided or misdiagnosis that could have been spared. I lose so much trust in this system. I’m not an expert, so what do you think? What can we do to fix this problem?

The full article can be read at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/11/14/AR2008111403005.html


Thanks for the interesting post. Yes, the simple act of listening can be difficult for doctors who are hard-pressed for time. I think doctors and patients have a shared responsibility...the doctors need to spend a reasonable amount of time with patients get to know what the patient's life is like, and patients need to be forthcoming and tell the doctor what they need to know. And patients should really get a second opinion for chronic problems that aren't being solved. Another doctor with different experiences may be able to figure something out that the first doc couldn't.

I definitely think that doctors and providers should remember the importance of sitting down and simply listening to a patient. However, I also believe that in our health care system, doctors are pressured to see patients in small amounts of time. I don't necessarily think it is entirely their fault. However, your posting shows that the little bit of extra time to listen can have very big health effects. Thanks for the posting!