So this is a bit of a spin on the health literacy and communication problems I’ve previously commented on. One of the things that wasn’t taught in medical school is what the patients don’t know. Now at one level this seems obvious – I went to medical school to learn the stuff that you need to know to be a doctor and that separates the doctors (& nurses) from the patients. In fact we get taught all of the medical stuff but we aren’t taught what the patient’s understand.
Here are some comparisons:
Patient: A no sugar diet will starve the cancer
Doctor: Your body will put whatever you put into your mouth into sugar
Patient: Does freezing or drying deplete the anti-oxidant powers of blueberries?
Doctor: There is no evidence that anti-oxidants are beneficial – and they might be harmful
Patient: The cancer still might be curable (even though the patient is bed bounds and is on 3rd line therapy and has widely metastatic disease)
Doctor: The cancer isn’t curable and we can hope to provide good palliation
Health literacy is a big problem and it goes beyond reading the label on a prescription. Understanding illnesses, understanding the information on the internet, navigating the health system (making appointments & paying the bills) are all part of health literacy. Doctors need to know what their patients (& carers) don’t and help teach them.