AGS Symposium Covers Best Practices in Patient Communication

Watching a seminar about good communication between doctors and patients was particularly appropriate for this Media MICE correspondent, as he recently went through a health-related problem himself. An injury to his arm required a trip to the hospital; this was followed by a check-up with a surgical consultant, who proceeded to shout repeatedly at said correspondent, manhandle him, and then misdiagnose him, all in the span of five minutes. On the day of this writing, however, he went to a much more genial physician who invested his time in good communication and ultimately, came to a more understandable diagnosis.

We all have off days when we want to stay in bed, and there’s no one out there who hasn’t had a rough day at the office or rubbed someone the wrong way once. We’re all human, but take it from someone who recently had to endure poor communication and empathy from a medical professional: It sucks. So, watching Meaningful Patient Engagement, a symposium held during the American Glaucoma Society (AGS) 2022 conference in Nashville, Tennessee, was really fascinating.

Make it Simple for Patients to Understand

The symposium started off with an emotional hook as we heard from glaucoma patients who offered their advice to doctors regarding patient communication. One, in particular, stood out — an older American man who said firstly, that doctors need to make it simple for patients to understand what is happening to them. Second, authenticity is key and doctors must be sympathetic to the individual needs of patients, regardless of how many they see daily.

The primary presentation of note during Meaningful Patient Engagement was given by Dr. Constance Okeke, an associate professor of ophthalmology at the Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia. In Communication with Parents: Why it Matters, Dr. Okeke drew on her own experience of working with patients at Virginia Eye Consultants (also located in Norfolk) and began with a stark warning. She stated that “poor communication with patients can lead to blindness in the chronic condition [of glaucoma].”

Dr. Okeke pointed out that out of a cohort of 100 patients on an eye drop regime, 20% of them would go on to fail with compliance due to poor communication with their physician. She said that there’s a mismatch between what the doctor expects good communication to be (namely education, trust and culture), and what the patient expects. She said that the latter group instead views good communication as being of a bidirectional approach that takes into account their own specific needs and expectations.

In Any Eye Condition: Get It, Get You

This led to what Dr. Okeke described as the point where “the doctor gets it and the doctor gets you,” i.e., the doctor understands how the patient is and not just what their condition is. Educating the patient about their condition needs to also include a process of empowerment, allowing them to enjoy greater control over their illness and how it affects their daily lives. Empowerment should include understanding of the patient, enlightenment too, but also encouragement, trust, connection and encouragement to feel that they can take action.

Summing up, Dr. Okeke provided some great insight and reassuring words (even for people smarting from poor treatment provided in a non-ophthalmology setting), so kudos to her. She strongly emphasized the point again that one cannot just “ge”’ the condition or the disease like (for example) glaucoma, but rather one must “get” the patient that is present in one’s clinic. In short, get good glaucoma knowledge (or knowledge in any other eye condition, for that matter) on the go in a way that the patient gets, or they’ll go blind in their goggles.

Editor’s Note: The 2022 American Glaucoma Society Annual Meeting was held in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, from March 3 – 6, 2022. Reporting for this story was based on materials received from the said event.

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