Companions can improve doctor-patient info exchange

January 23, 2019

Q. My 90-year-old mother is extremely independent and doesn't want me coming with her to see her doctors. It's frustrating, because when she gets home, I can't get any decent information from her. She doesn't ask the doctors questions. What can I do about this?

This behavior is very familiar to me. People in my parents' World War II generation are self-reliant, but with a stronger respect for authority than subsequent generations. These folks tend not to challenge their doctors even with simple questions.

I'll give you some information you can use to convince your mother that it is in her best interest to have you with her when she goes to the doctor.

A study done at the University of Colorado demonstrated that both patients and doctors benefit from having a companion along at a visit.

"Companions that patients choose to bring to their medical visits are generally very helpful and improve the communication and understanding that occurs between the patient and the physician," explained Dr. Lisa M. Schilling, lead author of the study team.

The researchers analyzed almost 1,300 patient visits to determine the frequency, role and influence of companions during outpatient visits. Patients were accompanied by a companion in almost 3 out of every 10 visits. In 93 percent of the assisted visits, the companion was a family member.

The study showed that companions improved doctor-patient communication. The patients recalled the physician's advice better, and were more able to express their concerns to the physician. According to the patients, their companions improved three out of four of their medical visits.

About 60 percent of the physicians said that the patients' companions helped them understand their patients better. Almost half of the physicians said the companions helped increase the patient's understanding.

In another study at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Debra Roter and her colleagues reported findings similar to those at the University of Colorado. The study at Johns Hopkins included 12,000 Medicare recipients.

The researchers found that elderly patients who were accompanied to a doctor's examining room reported greater satisfaction than those who showed up in waiting rooms alone.

“Having a companion made those who were more ill or less educated on a par with people who were better off on those variables,” said Dr. Roter.

She said that a companion at a doctor’s appointment can help in the following ways:

• Take notes
• Remind the patient to ask questions or express concerns
• Provide information the patient has forgotten, or clarify information for the doctor
• Act as a “translator” who explains what the doctor and patient are saying to each other.

Another recommendation that came out of the study is for a rehearsal. The patient and companion should go over every subject in advance to prepare for the visit.

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