Good doctor-patient relations depend on good communication and, whilst most patients (62 per cent) say that they understand what their GPs are telling them, nearly a third (31 per cent) find otherwise, leaving most of this group (73 per cent) feeling confused, anxious or uneasy.
Patients come to GP appointments with varying levels of knowledge and experience of medical matters and it can be difficult for GPs to gauge whether their patients are taking in what they’re saying. It’s therefore reassuring that, according to the findings of an AXA PPP healthcare poll of 2000 patients who have seen their GP in the last 12 months,* more often than not GPs are getting it right.
To get a better feel for patients’ knowledge of some commonly used medical terms, AXA PPP asked survey respondents to answer eight multiple choice questions:
CT scan – 4 out of 10 know the correct meaning
Whilst 43 per cent correctly identified CT as the abbreviation for computerised tomography, nearly a third (32 per cent) thought it meant cranial thermal scan and 11 per cent said it meant computerised torso scan.
Ganglion – 5 out of 10 know the correct meaning
Whilst 45 per cent correctly identified it as a harmless cyst, 25 per cent thought it was a skin tag or hanging nodule and 6 per cent thought it was a cancerous swelling.
Somnambulism – 5 out of 10 know the correct meaning
Whilst 51 per cent correctly identified the commonly used meaning (sleepwalking), 33 per cent didn’t know and 12 per cent thought it was an ear infection.
Hypertension – 6 out of 10 know the correct meaning
Whilst 59 per cent correctly identified it as high blood pressure, over a quarter (27 per cent) thought it meant anxiety or stress and 6 per cent plumped for hyperactive disorder.
MRI scan – 7 out of 10 know the correct meaning
Whilst 65 per cent correctly identified it as magnetic resonance imaging, nearly a fifth (17 per cent) thought MRI stood for multiple radiation investigation and 9 per cent went for mass radiation inventory.
Fracture – 8 out of 10 know the correct meaning
Whilst over three quarters (77 per cent) correctly identified a fracture as a broken bone, 13 per cent thought it meant a sprained bone and 5 per cent thought it was a torn muscle.
Benign – 8 out of 10 know the correct meaning
Whilst most (79 per cent) identified the best meaning of benign as not harmful in effect, 7 per cent thought it meant a terminal illness and a further 5 per cent thought it meant life limiting or disabling.
Haemorrhage – 8 out of 10 know the correct meaning
Whilst 81 per cent knew that a haemorrhage was an escape of blood from a ruptured blood vessel, 8 per cent thought it was another word for piles and 5 per cent confused it with a hernia, thinking it was a protrusion through the abdominal wall.
Older patients consistently outperformed their younger counterparts in correctly identifying these medical terms, which may be attributable to their having had more opportunities to hear of and/or experience them. For instance, 52 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds correctly identified hypertension as high blood pressure, compared with 69 per cent of those aged 55+.
Sixty-three per cent of 18 to 24 year olds knew a fracture was a broken bone, compared with 91 per cent of those aged 55+. And, regarding benign, 65 per cent of 18 to 24 year olds thought it meant not harmful in effect, compared with 92 per cent of those aged 55+. Ten per cent of 18 to 24 year olds even identified benign as meaning terminal, compared with 4 per cent of those aged 55+.
Women generally outperformed men in correctly identifying the medical terms. For instance, 85 per cent of women identified haemorrhage as an escape of blood from a ruptured blood vessel, compared with 77 per cent of men. For hypertension the figures were 67 per cent and 49 per cent, respectively, and for benign they were 82 per cent and 75 per cent.
AXA PPP’s chief medical officer Dr Gary Bolger noted, “Whilst, generally speaking, most people seemed to know the meaning of these medical terms, a surprisingly large proportion did not. Good communication is a two-way process so it is important for GPs to remember that a sizeable minority of their patients may not have sufficient knowledge or understanding to take in what they’re saying.”
Although most patients (74 per cent) did ask their GPs to explain what they meant when they hadn’t understood something, nearly a quarter did not: 11 per cent said nothing because of embarrassment, with 10 per cent doing likewise because they didn’t want to waste their doctor’s time. Three per cent gave up altogether and went to see another doctor. “Whilst some patients can find it intimidating to question their GP when they don’t understand what they’ve said, patients should remember that their doctor is there to help them and they shouldn’t be afraid or embarrassed to ask their doctor to explain what they mean,” Dr Bolger added.
Pressure of time can also be an issue for some patients, as a fifth (21 per cent) of those surveyed felt their GP didn’t take enough time to explain things to them in terms they can understand, with over half of this group attributing this to lack of time, which may be unsurprising given an average appointment time of 8 to 10 minutes.** To help patients to better understand some commonly used medical terms, AXA PPP has introduced an online glossary. For more information visit www.axappphealthcare.co.uk/doctorsorders.
*The survey, undertaken by OnePoll in May 2014, comprised 2000 adults who had been to a GP appointment in the last 12 months.
**Make the most of your appointment, NHS Choices: Doctors spend an average of eight-10 minutes with each patient. Once you've got an appointment, plan ahead to make sure that you cover everything you want to discuss. http://www.nhs.uk/choiceintheNHS/Yourchoices/GPchoice/Pages/GPappointments.aspx